County; State Probe How Best To Aid Local Businesses

LACDC Executive Director Patrick Sullivan

Los Alamos Daily Post

With the pandemic putting a strain on Los Alamos businesses, there is much discussion underway about how local government might help.

Assistance from Los Alamos County is limited due to the anti-donation clause in the state constitution.

“It just very much restricts what any municipality is able to do for a private business…,” said Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC) Executive Director Patrick Sullivan.

He explained that there is good reason for the anti-donation clause – it prevents corruption – elected officials can’t give away public money, he said.

House Dist. 43 Rep. Christine Chandler

Dist. 43 Rep. Christine Chandler said she has not heard of any discussion to amend the clause during the special session that begins June 18. This would be a complex process, she said, because it would require a vote to amend the constitution.

She added that while there are ways governments can help businesses, such as providing Local Economic Development Act (LEDA), “It is trickier to try to help businesses feeling the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.”

“There could be a way to assist businesses through a strong loan program,” Chandler said. “Just writing someone a check from the state coffers is not a doable thing. Except in very limited circumstances, the state can’t give taxpayer money to the private sector no matter how important the need.”

There are other ways, however, to help support and assist local businesses, she said.

“There is interest in a stimulus package … we are looking into offering some form of assistance to small businesses in the state,” Chandler said. “Direct grants are not an option … so it is likely to come in the form of loans but under very favorable terms. We recognize that supporting impacted businesses is key to the state’s economic recovery as a whole.”

Sullivan also touched on the possibility of exploring a revolving loan fund. The idea is the loan would be managed by the municipality or by an organization such as LACDC, he said. Additionally, the loan would offer either no interest or low interest.

This could be particularly helpful to local businesses since federal funds have been so slow in arriving and the process of applying for aid has been confusing, Sullivan said.

“All the options are available and (we need to consider) what we can do legally, how it would be set up and how it would be managed and understand what our options are and try to and respond to our community better,” he said.

One thing Sullivan said he believes is key for a business is the ability to adapt quickly to the way it does business. For instance, Sullivan said if he owns a sit-down restaurant and he only offers dine-in services; he would need to consider expanding to online ordering and curbside pickup.

“I think that part of the responsibility of LACDC as an economic development firm is looking at an economic disaster as a normal education topic of what we do,” he said, adding that LACDC needs to help businesses prepare for the worst-case scenario so when the next disaster occurs, businesses can react quickly and not have to scramble at the last minute.

This is important because disasters are not foreign to Los Alamos, Sullivan said.

“This is the third time in 20 years our community has had a disruption in the normal way of doing business … it is something that is not as uncommon as one might think,” he said.

But perhaps the best way to help a business is to spend money, Sullivan said.

“I encourage everyone to go out safely and support businesses,” he said. “Every time we buy something it helps a little bit. As much as people are able, support our local businesses.”