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As Los Alamos National Laboratory revenues become increasingly dicey, the need to diversify the Los Alamos economy becomes more pressing. The county’s efforts to attract and keep small business continue Wednesday with a small business Q and A.
“This is just part of our outreach to small businesses. Small businesses are important to the community, and especially our community, where we have one major employer. We need to diversify and support the small businesses that are growing and happy to be in Los Alamos,” Economic Vitality Administrator Greg Fisher said.
“One of the first things we want to do is listen to business concerns. I’ve received a number of calls and talked to a number of different business folks, and we really want to encapsulate more of their concerns at this meeting.”
Business owners are concerned about competition from Santa Fe and other locations, but the most frequent complaint Fisher hears is that lease rates are too high.
“People have moved offices to Española and other places because it’s cheaper,” Fisher said. “We need to encourage people to have their office here. When Los Alamos people are commuting to Española because their office rates are half, we’ve got to try to work on that problem.”
Fisher admits that other than improving infrastructure and supporting the creation of low cost office space, there is little the county can do to counteract that problem.
“The market is likely to adjust itself based on supply and demand. And with the lab demand, especially the contractor demand decreasing, I wouldn’t expect rents to be rising,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the county is exploring how to support incubator concepts such as The Hive or incubator run by the Los Alamos Business Development Center.
“We recognize the importance of incubating small business, but that’s not fully fleshed out yet,” Fisher said.
On Wednesday, Fisher will discuss the county’s two major programs for supporting small business: the Local Economic Development Act and the Façade Grant and Loan program for the downtown area.
“The LEDA grant and loan program is designed to assist small businesses that are interested in expanding by providing them with some funding to cushion some of the expenses that they’ll incur,” Fisher said. “The LEDA grant or loan requires a commitment by the business to hire people, to make investment and/or to expand what they’re doing so their tax base goes up, so their gross receipts taxes increase.”
The act passed by the New Mexico State legislature places significant restrictions on how LEDA funds may be used. The emphasis is on “brick and mortar” businesses and excludes retail businesses from eligibility.
“It’s an imperfect piece of legislation, but it was adopted to allow economic development to occur without triggering the anti-donation clause, which is a big deal in New Mexico,” Fisher said. “So it’s not perfect, but it will be helpful for certain businesses.”
Fisher cited the New Mexico Consortium and Caldera Pharmaceuticals Inc. as LEDA recipients that have prospered.
“LEDA has encouraged companies like the New Mexico Consortium to invest tens of millions of dollars here. And that operation alone produces somewhere around six to eight million dollars a year in economic development for the community,” Fisher said.
The façade program offers grants and loans to downtown businesses for improvement of vertical elements such walls, windows, wall signs and lighting facing the public right-of-way, as well as pedestrian friendly improvements. Businesses within the Los Alamos Creative District may also qualify for up to $100,000 in low interest loans and/or grants designed to help improve street-facing building elements such as a patio expansion for a restaurant.
“Essentially, a business will have to invest in improvements that meet the architectural guidelines of Los Alamos County and enhance the pedestrian experience in downtown,” Fisher said.
Applications for these programs are available at lacnm.us/ecodev. The county also offers site location assistance, planning, development and infrastructure assistance for small business.
Representatives from the Los Alamos Small Business Development Center and MainStreet, LLC will also be in attendance to answer questions about their small business programs.
The Q and A takes place in the Nambe Room on the second floor of Fuller Lodge at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Contact Fisher for more information at 662-8296 or firstname.lastname@example.org.