Letter To The Editor: Thoughts On Branding For A Community With Infinite Potential

By TJ TAUB
Los Alamos

Los Alamos County (LAC) has been TALKING ‘economic development’ (ec dev) for years. I’m not at all convinced residents truly understand what that really means to them, personally.

It SHOULD mean more to residents than simply drawing additional LANL-related businesses to town. Ec dev efforts for LAC should encompass much broader categories. Decades ago LAC had a lot more to offer – three or four groceries (not two stores/one company), multiple drug stores, other retail, a bakery, etc. LAC residents want more options. People have declined to join LANL or the hospital, for example, because there wasn’t enough ‘there’ there.

In addition to LANL, LAC’s most outstanding asset is its location, location, LOCATION!

  • Year-round outdoor opportunities from sports – hiking, biking, skiing, camping, rafting, and more; close to Bandelier, Valles Caldera, more; beautiful settings for watching wildlife, doing photography, painting, more…
  • Easy access to diverse cultural opportunities (Native American, Spanish, historical, Santa Fe, Taos, not to mention the Manhattan Project National Historical Park designation, more …). 
  • More – you fill it in …

Los Alamos might be worth a day trip, but why stay? Where? Pleasant, even charming, friendly lodging?  Where to eat? Where to shop for sports, other outdoor, camera equipment, local arts and crafts (tons of talented people in town), etc.? There ARE places (nice if more were locally grown and operated!) – but if LAC really wants to attract visitors and new business, it must create an environment that welcomes and supports both its diversity of residents and visitors.

LANL annually draws hundreds, if not thousands, of people to Los Alamos from around the globe. These visitors could experience the area as a great place to bring family and friends. Or not, if there’s a lack of nice lodging, varied restaurants, outdoor-related and other unique retail, etc. to explore and experience. And friendly people are a must. There’s no greater turn-off than being ‘helped’ by someone who clearly doesn’t give a darn about you as a customer or client.

The lab also SENDS people all over the globe who could be great ambassadors for the area to attract visitors/businesses including and beyond those that would be LANL-related.

Over time, LAC has engaged expertise to address ec dev. It also has a track record of subsequently ignoring suggestions and advice with the rationalization that these folks just didn’t understand the community. Los Alamos IS a unique community. Guess what? So is every OTHER community!

A consideration: regardless of education and smarts, just because you talk does NOT mean you’re automatically an effective communicator. Clearly there are many who dis a planned communication strategy. Often probably naiveté. Sometimes simply arrogance. But an honest, realistic, comprehensive communication strategy is a critical component in an effective ec dev effort.  Not everyone knows everything. Those who recognize that fact, accept it, and truly welcome other expertise are those who benefit and grow.

Branding is an important tool in economic development. “Where Discoveries Are Made” is passive and flat. Sounds like somebody else makes them – what does that have to do with ‘me’? ‘Live Exponentially’ – truly DOA. If you have to explain the phrase, it’s useless!

Branding supports the goal (what is sought via ec dev efforts) by targeting potential AUDIENCES! What will get their attention? What is important to them? They might be entrepreneurs, or people with all sorts of skills and expertise (including those already in town), spouses of potential employees, etc. “Audience” is not exclusively one flavor or another and it/they must be defined.

There are those who adamantly believe branding is simply a way to waste LAC monies. It is, if  done poorly. Ec dev efforts for LAC won’t produce significant community-relevant results:

  •  if entities sought are ONLY those tied to LANL work;
  •  if LAC makes it too unpleasant and challenging for businesses to establish themselves.

Ultimately, ec dev efforts are pointless if there isn’t truly a WILL to make it happen! Obstacles always appear. They can be overcome if there’s a will to do so. Get over it. Get on with it!

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