Businesses have options

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By Katy Korkos

Small businesses are often first to feel the pinch when the Los Alamos National Laboratory tightens its belt, but there are several organizations whose sole purpose it is to provide support to those businesses. The Chamber of Commerce, Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC), Small Business Development Center and Los Alamos MainStreet all have come into being because of the need to create a sustainable and diverse Los Alamos economy.

The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce operates as a membership program of the LACDC. Member benefit and services include promotional and networking opportunities, group health care coverage, mailing services and conference room use. The Chamber of Commerce FAN Clubs and Business Breakfasts offer the opportunity for networking, making those business contacts and learning from other business people's experiences.

"Our mission is economic, cultural and civic development, but beyond that, we want to promote a positive sense of community," said Debbie Gill, member services coordinator for the chamber, in an interview Wednesday. "We implemented the Discovery Dialogs because it's beneficial to treat each other in a considerate manner."

Gill is optimistic about the future of the economy in the county, in part because of her previous experience in a laboratory-driven town, where the laboratory actually shut down.

"We are not the only small town who's going through this," she said. "If we have a vision of community, with resources, discipline and focus, we can create the vision we want."

The LACDC, a not-for-profit corporation serving Los Alamos and northern New Mexico, focuses its activities "on providing assistance to small businesses as well as on improving economic outcomes in our region," states the website maintained by LACDC (www.losalamos.org/lacdc).

LACDC is neither fundamentally "pro-growth" nor "pro-development" - but rather "pro Los Alamos," according to the website.

Kent Pegg, owner of LA Fitness, said he sees the LACDC and the chamber as good resources for local business.

Pegg serves on the board of directors of the LACDC because of "all of their great programs," he said, adding that they "consistently provide support and education for business."

LACDC operations are not subsidized, but are funded by revenues from property operations, memberships and performance of service contracts for a variety of customers.

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers free, confidential business consulting, training courses and business plan assistance for Los Alamos businesses. Business development director Patrick Sullivan said Thursday that the UNM-LA SBDC had seen144 clients for a total of 914 hours of business counseling, offered 14 business training workshops with 169 attendees, and assisted with 25 new business creations, creating 66 jobs and $100,000 in capital investment in the period from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2007.

Sullivan said that the SBDC used the Small Business Administration's guidelines in determining what constitutes a small business. The SBDC is not a county-funded activity, but operates on a contract for UNM-LA, as part of the New Mexico SBDC network. The types of businesses served include retail, service, manufacturing and nonprofits.

"Until recently, the SBA did not consider nonprofits to be economic development, but they bring money and jobs to the community, so they are part of it," Sullivan said, adding that just because it appears that economic development efforts are focused on trying to bring new business into the area rather than supporting existing business, that is not the case here.

"Recruiting does not mean we are ignoring our local business," Sullivan said. "It's just adding a new piece of the puzzle."