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Russian visitors study local economy

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By Carol A. Clark

An orientation of Los Alamos, its unique economy and the economy of the United States jump-started a week-long stay of four visitors from Sarov, Russia, Nov. 10-17. Accompanied by two interpreters, the group met with civic and community leaders and attended a Real Estate and Construction Business Panel Nov. 13.“We’re giving them good slices of businesses here and we’re having a good exchange of business ideas here and in Sarov,” said Kevin Holsapple, executive director of Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation.Real estate developer Roger Waterman, Realtor David Horpedahl of Los Alamos Properties and home builder Stan Primak briefed the Russian delegation on typical aspects of their businesses.Waterman divided his business into eight steps. “Imagine some form of real estate,” he said. “The first step is the idea or opportunity - identifying a hole or need in the market.”Next, real estate investments involve a great deal of money so market assessment is very important, he said. Risk assessment is third. “The wrong investment could end your business,” he advised the men. “It’s critical in a single industry small town and it’s even more important in a government town because funding could change over night.” Waterman said the next thing to do is find others who have faith in you to invest their money.Hiring an appraiser comes next followed by developing the idea into a financial package and taking it to the bank.“Then you can purchase or construct or re-develop or speculate on the real estate,” Waterman said. “Operate it successfully and eventually the sale will be based on its value.”Waterman ended his presentation by emphasizing that the most important part of the disposition of property is the tax impact. Primak told the delegation his father emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine. He described the differences between the two types of housing he builds. Custom homes are built to the buyers’ preferences and a spec home is built with the hope that someone will buy it.Primak mentioned the national average of profit in the home building industry is 15 percent. “Right now in Los Alamos profit is typically 5-7 percent,” he said.The Russians asked about rent subsidies. Holsapple said he is trying to get local landlords to lower rents, employers to give rent subsidies and the county to give incentives. “In order to qualify, you would have to live and work in Los Alamos,” he said.Igor Kuznetsov, deputy director of the City of Duma Social Committee said the government provides free apartments. “There are other programs where families are subsidized to buy their apartments,” Kuznetsov said.The Russians said there are 900 apartment buildings in Sarov, each containing 145 apartments that are under government control.In rural areas surrounding the city, it costs more than one million rubles to buy a house – or $40,000 U.S. They also said unemployment runs less than 5 percent in Sarov.“The fundamental difference is the United States is driven by the market economy,” said Sergei Bezrukov, city deputy diretor.Sergey Lobanov, director of the City Council Education Department and Alexei Volgin, city legal advisor, rounded out the delegation.Olga Butko served as facilitator for the delegation. She was on her sixth trip for Open World.Since 1999, Open World has brought more than 11,500 young leaders to the United States from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Uzbekistan.Through Open World, mayors, legislators, judges, civil servants, educators and entrepreneurs from across the former Soviet Union have been exposed to America.Congress established the program in 1999 to increase U.S.-Russian understanding and to expose Russian leaders to American democratic and economic institutions.The local program is facilitated through Los Alamos-Sarov Sister Cities Inc (LASSCI), which began in the early 1990s, and has resulted in exchange visits between citizens in the fields of medicine, education and local government, in addition to many scientific visits between respective laboratories.The purpose of the local nonprofit is to design, implement and manage educational programs such as public discussion groups, forums, panels, lectures, exchanges, and similar programs of mutual benefit to the communities for learning about each others community and culture.LASSCI is led by Lawry Mann. Others on the board include Alice Mann, Paul White, Sig Hecker, Nina Hecker, Olga Augustson, Ron Augustson, Fran Berting, Kevin Holsapple, Jody Howell, Roger Waterman, Kris Raber, Kate Kettering, and Robert Thomsen. These members represent the areas of laboratory/scientific, community, county government, community business, education and medicine.Sarov has a similar group consisting of eight members headed by Deputy City Administrator Igor Kochankov.To learn more or to volunteer, access www.losalamossarov.org.