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A recent story in a local daily newsblog completely illustrates the point I’m about to make. It was detailing the visit of New Mexico Secretary of Education-Designate Hanna Skandera before a large, local political gathering. Nearly a dozen photographs of the event would give a clue many in our community cannot see. Mrs. Skandera was easily the youngest person in the room.
Back in my ancient times at the Carolina business school, we were taught that there were only “three factors of wealth and production:” land, labor and capital. Of course, the modern world has turned all this on its head, but we also learned the wise words of legendary banker Walter Wriston, “capital goes where it’s welcome and stays where it’s well treated.”
Only in today’s techno-centric era, that “capital” is really “human capital.” A critical difference.
Nobody can hope to understand this better than Los Alamos, or at least that’s what you’d think. After all, wasn’t the average age on the Manhattan Project a crusty old 27? To be sure, Los Alamos County would never forget that its creativity and global brand was directly linked to its iconoclastic daring and youthful exuberance?
I’m not so sure about that today. Aside from the very real and measurable demographic falloff we’re facing, I see a place increasingly preoccupied with the glories of the past.
Folks, this is what old people do. Number one thing: resist change at all costs.
And just how does it manifest? By refusing to invest in the physical things that lead to the expansion and flowering of that “human capital” in today’s new terms. Emphasis on the word “new.”
At some point we pass a critical tipping point down this dark road and there’s no going back. Los Alamos then becomes a footnote, a relic of the Cold War. “Never say never” because it’s a deeply competitive world out there; your nine lives do finally have a shelf life.
That isolated, secure, and defensible plateau with its series of steep mountain canyons Groves and Oppenheimer spied coming over the ridge from Jemez Springs — was at one time a great advantage. The modern world has moved past all that.
There’s still time to adjust our thinking, but not as much as 10 years ago. Besides, we are in a state notoriously backward at maximizing human potential. Ditto for the uber-collegial, “faculty senate” approach to local governance; there needs to be some sharper elbows and less passive groupthink.
Los Alamos could be New Mexico’s Singapore, but we’re going to have to kill and eat a few sacred cows beforehand. The good news is… they do make the best burgers.
Sellers is a local venture coach and vice president of the Los Alamos Entrepreneurs Network; he is best reached via email at email@example.com.