Joan Ahlers is the new Economic Development Administrator for Los Alamos County. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
Joan Ahlers landed her dream job. On Dec. 5, she started as the Economic Development Administrator for Los Alamos County.
Ahlers oversees the Economic Development Division, which addresses numerous issues including real estate and County property negotiations, housing and rehabilitation of existing housing issues, the new branding initiative, tourism and attractions and contracts with the local Chamber of Commerce and the Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation.
The division also partners with the Los Alamos Film Office and facilitates regional partnerships with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities and the Northern New Mexico Regional Economic Development Initiative.
Ahlers said she is excited about her new position. “I think we are at a really cool time in Los Alamos history for economic develop to happen,” she said, adding that the county seems to be at a tipping point, with its demand for housing and the success of Smith’s Marketplace for the county’s retail.
Additionally, the Economic Development Division works to fulfill the goals outlined in the Economic Vitality Strategic Plan. Ahlers mentioned since the County Council’s goals have shifted, the plan is being revised. Ahlers said housing has taken a higher priority for the County. She mentioned 60 percent of retirees are continuing to stay in Los Alamos; add that to the new employees coming to Los Alamos National Laboratory and more housing is needed. In response to this, the Economic Development Division is drafting a request for proposals to develop concepts for the site of the former Los Alamos Site Office.
Another major focus is helping local businesses and diversifying the economy. One way Ahlers is working to bring diversity to the economy is by collaborating with the Laboratory to help companies take certain laboratory technology and bring it into the market place.
“It’s a lot of fun. I mentor them, help them with facilities, help them get state funding if they qualify; I get to be their fairy godmother. It’s just so much fun,” Ahlers said.
Ahlers pointed out even housing ties into successfully diversifying the economy. She explained as companies grow and expand, if they want to bring in a workforce outside the state or hire within the state, a lack of housing will be a deterent. Plus, she said, if there are more residents living in town there will be more money spent locally. This could lead to more national chains taking notice of Los Alamos.
Ahlers noted that Council’s goal is for the population to reach 20,000 by 2020 “and if we can reach that then I think you’ll see great opportunity.”
Several things are working in Los Alamos’ favor to reach this goal. “We have so many natural benefits … (we have) incredible settings and natural settings, outdoor activities, the design of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park … the golf course and ski hill all play into the quality of life. The incredible workforce and the knowledge LANL and employees bring to the community is another way to diversify our economy,” Ahlers said.
Economic development is something Ahlers has addressed her whole career. Whether as a small business owner or as Chief Operations Officer (COO) for Los Alamos Public Schools, “that provided me with the backbone and framework for this job,” Ahlers said.
In addition to working as the COO, Ahlers also worked as the school district’s asset manager; she was tasked with getting the district’s leased facilities to generate more revenue. Additionally, Ahlers worked in real estate, construction and operated her own business, Fresh Baby. She also served a term on the LAPS school board.
Ahlers and her husband, Gary, have lived in Los Alamos for 17 years. They have four children: Madison, Jordan, Gregory and Sienna.