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Unique economy

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By Katy Korkos

 

The Leadership Los Alamos Class of 2008 absorbed a full day of lessons on economic development and what it means to the community when the class met Friday at Fuller Lodge. Twenty-seven people from all walks of life comprise this year’s class, in the fifth year of the local program. The class meets once a month for eight months to learn different aspects of how the community works, with the goal of creating engaged leaders who commit their time and effort to improving the community.Denise Lane, a local entrepreneur and an alumna of the Leadership program, chaired the all-day session. The day’s first speaker was Kevin Holsapple, who heads the not-for-profit Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC), which is involved with many different sides of economic development in the county. The Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Center, the Meeting and Visitor Bureau, Los Alamos Research Park and Los Alamos MainStreet are all programs of the LACDC.“Diversification really means increasing sources of income,” Holsapple said.Holsapple’s overview of the local economy pointed out statistics showing Los Alamos’ unique position, both in the more widely-known category of income – where the median household income approaches $84,000, and educational level, with more than 60 percent of locals having graduated from college – and lesser-known categories, such as the amount of park and industrial land in the county. Retail spending patterns also stood out as being unusual in Los Alamos, with only about $4,000 per capita spent annually in the county, compared to a national average of $9,190 per capita.The current state of real estate, as described by broker Kendra Henning, continues to point up the unique nature of Los Alamos.“We have about 80-percent home ownership here, compared to 68.9 percent nationwide,” Henning said. “More than 50 percent of retirees stay in the home they were in the day they retired.” She added that the local market is not tied to the national market, and that although the real estate market is depressed throughout the country, the local market is tied more closely to lab policies and budget than to a national trend.Los Alamos National Laboratory’s budget and involvement with the community were the topics of a presentation by the laboratory’s deputy director Jan Van Prooyen, who titled his talk “People, Procurement and Programs.” With a work force of 11,231 people and a payroll of more than $1 billion, the laboratory’s impact on the entire economy of New Mexico is significant. “The large number of disciplines represented means we can address almost any problem,” Van Prooyen said. He described LANL programs as encompassing economic development, education and workplace giving.“We’re putting over $4 million per year into education programs,” Van Prooyen said, also noting that preference is given to local and regional businesses.“Almost 60 percent of procurements stayed in New Mexico,” Van Prooyen said.Lab officials Kevin Chalmers, Joe Scarpino and Johnny Martinez accompanied vanProoyen to the Leadership class.The unique 59-year history of Los Alamos afforded the class the chance to meet with some of the original homeowners, something that would not be possible in a town with a longer history. During the war years and throughout the 1950s, all of the homes were owned by the federal government, and were maintained by the Zia Company, to the extent that even furnace filters and light bulbs were changed for the tenants.A retrospective look at growing up and growing a business in Los Alamos was provided by a panel comprised of property manager Roger Waterman; Cheryl Sowder, owner of Finishing Touch; and architect Steve Shaw.Roger Waterman spent some childhood years in the house with building permit #1, the first non-government house with the first building permit. Shaw is not a true Los Alamos native, having spent his first five days elsewhere.The day’s lessons were rounded out by Patrick Sullivan, director of the UNM-LA Small Business Development Center, who led participants through an exercise designed to determine the economic impact of a business on the community through many years.