ESPAÑOLA — “It’s a scary world out there,” Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason told the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Board during a meeting Friday at Espanola City Hall.
Ironically, that’s good news for LANL.
The lab is enjoying political support at this time, which means the lab is growing, Mason explained. LANL has about 1,400 open positions and has been hiring around 1,000 people a year for the past two years. Half of the new hires are replacing retirees, but the other half represents a growing workforce.
This explosion in hiring is a two-edged sword for both the Lab and its surrounding communities, he said.
“We’re out of space, even in terms of office space,” Mason said. “We need to build more parking garages.”
What Mason calls “our unique and beautiful geography” imposes limits, he said. There just isn’t flat land available to build on, so the Triad leadership has to be creative. Also, the far-flung nature of the Lab means there’s a need for more and better cell phone towers, he said.
The Lab also is looking ahead to replacing the aging Omega Bridge, for which LANL is responsible.
“It’s okay now but it’s actually been around for a while,” Mason said.
The Lab is striving to look 10 or 20 years in the future and start planning the changes in infrastructure that will be needed now, he said.
The increase in Lab hiring also represents challenges for the surrounding communities, something the LANL leadership is well aware of, Mason said. Housing and transportation are the biggest challenges. especially in the summer when 1,700 students are thrown into the mix.
“We’re trying to understand what does that mean long-term so that we can communicate that to the broad community and to the business community,” Mason said.
There’s a housing shortage in Santa Fe and even more so in Los Alamos, Mason said. There’s limited land available for growth in Los Alamos because of the geography and because the town is surrounded by Pueblo and federal land. Forty percent of LANL employees live in Los Alamos and 60 percent off the hill, he said.
“We have a responsibility to outline where we’re going,” Mason said. “We pay people well and they can afford to buy homes. That coupled with letting the community know what’s happening, we hope is motivating to businesses to meet the need.”
Mason would like to see the Laboratory better integrated with the surrounding communities.
“Our success is intimately tied with being in a vibrant, thriving Northern New Mexico,” he said.
LANL is partnering with the Regional Development Corporation on economic diversity and workforce development, Mason said. It’s not only the right thing to do, but is in the Lab’s self-interest, he pointed out.
One current project is a partnership with Northern New Mexico College to train radiation control technicians, Mason said.
“We have some critical skills needs that are kind of specific to our line of business and the ability to partner with the institutions like Northern, UNM-LA and Santa Fe Community College,” Mason said, adding that these educational institutions are willing to work with LANL to tailor the curriculum so students graduate job-ready.
There’s some good news for northern New Mexico small businesses, Mason said.
“We’ve doubled the pricing preference given to northern New Mexico small businesses for contracting with the Lab,” he said. “We’re exploring ways to streamline the process for subcontracting with LANL.”
Total procurement with small businesses jumped from 59 percent in FY18 to 71 percent so far in FY19.
The LANL leadership is working hard to improve Lab operations, Mason said. One-third of first-line managers have graduated from intensive safety training.
“First-line supervisors are in the best position to line out training and safety,” he said.
Mason said employees are eager to find better ways of doing things. The goal is that, “12,000 people show up eager to improve how they do their jobs.”
RCLC Board Members present at the meeting Friday, from left, Santa Fe City Councilor Peter Ives, Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz and Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo. RCLC Board Chair/Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry P. Roybal, RCLC Vice Chair/Town of Taos Councilor Darien Fernández and Española Mayor Javier Sanchez attended the meeting by telephone. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
A slide from the PowerPoint presentation given by LANL Director Thom Mason during the RCLC meeting Friday in Española. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com