Council Corner: By Council Chair Kristin Henderson

Los Alamos County Council Chair

Why does Los Alamos Need a Brand?

As the Chair of the County Council, one of the biggest concerns I hear – and am also concerned with – is the idea of expanding beyond being a “one-horse town.”

As a local government, there are several ways to try to encourage that, some harder than others.

The first is to have policies that support the local businesses here now; this is a high priority for this Council, and the Staff knows and is working on that.

Another is to have policies that encourage Lab spinoffs; this has a lot of complications, but there are efforts towards this as well.

A third is to be known as a great small town to relocate to, and as a great place to visit. There are many businesses that can “live anywhere,” and the owners both support themselves and often hire others. They might even be small restaurant and shop owners.

The current branding initiative is an effort by the County Council to work on the last two; becoming known, outside our community, as a great place to live, and a great place to visit.

There are few things branding is not. Branding is not about a slogan for our town, or how we feel about ourselves or what we do here.

We already have a great small town to live in, and those of us living here know that. There are areas to work on, of course, and the new Nature Center, Teen Center and White Rock Library are examples of that.

But getting the word out about the town is its own initiative. Just some of the messages we are trying to send in our branding include that we are a safe small town, in a gorgeous environment, with great schools, ready access to the outdoors, and more. All of these were already selected by over 700 residents who participated in a study about the right way to brand the town.

When someone wants to find a small mountain town that is safe with great schools to relocate to – we want Los Alamos to come to mind.  Unfortunately, that word is not out there now.  (Mostly it’s “Uh, Atom Bomb? WWII?” We have a lot more to say than that.)

As a philosophy major, and a law student and lawyer, I certainly was not familiar with branding initiatives until I moved into the business world. There is a lot that goes into it; it is not just an ad or a slogan, although both may be involved. And to be effective, the messages need to be conveyed on an emotional level, not literally.

And, yes, it does work. There are any number of communities that have evolved their image through branding initiatives, and evolved the town. One is a suburb of Seattle that was known only for shopping; they wanted to be known for the great place to live that it was, too. Through getting that message out, via branding, they have changed their image and the makeup of their town.  

Other branding initiatives for other communities include “Pure Michigan” – their branding includes that strapline, but also images, music and even the voice they’ve picked for the voiceover. I picture lakes when I hear “Michigan” now, instead of factories, which used to come to mind.

Another is “New Mexico True,” a branding campaign of the state. We may still live in “The Land of Enchantment,” as we all know we do, but that is not part of the branding initiative.

My favorite example is “Love: That’s What Makes A Subaru”. Probably the people who make Subarus are pretty clear that is not what makes a Subaru. But in seeing the images, and hearing the music and voiceover, the emotional message you get is: this is a car for driving around the people you love; that means it must be safe and reliable.

If you would like to know more about branding as an effort, I would encourage viewing our “branding initiative” page on our website at





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