I moved to Los Alamos in 1992 as a founding partner in a small environmental consulting business, Neptune and Company. For this reason I have always followed Los Alamos County’s efforts to foster economic development and diversification. I was also on the board of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center as we moved from a fledgling 501c3 entity to a non-profit business providing educational services to the community.
Every entrepreneur has his or her own reasons for starting a business. For Neptune and Company, we started our business in Los Alamos because we won a contract to support the environment programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory. We were unusual in that none of us had worked at LANL so we were not a spin-off business. While Neptune and Company still has an office in Los Alamos, it is relevant to this topic that our main office is now in Lakewood, Colo. A good part of the reason for this change is that it is easier to recruit new staff in the Denver area compared to Los Alamos.
Diversifying and expanding our local businesses, in particular small businesses, provides expanded arrays of goods and services to residents and visitors and also helps to broaden the tax base. New or expanded technical service or manufacturing businesses provide alterative employment to LANL and help diversify our sources of revenue.
Based on the community surveys conducted for the 2016 Los Alamos County Comprehensive Plan, there was community support for economic development and diversification. For example, 67 percent of the survey respondents had high support for the goal of supporting existing businesses. Members of the public also supported other economic development policies such as actively soliciting new developments, supporting LANL spin-off businesses, or attracting new tourism-related businesses.
The public had less support for efforts to attract new business than to support existing businesses. One reason could be that 69 percent of the respondents had high support for the statement “retain the small town character and feel of the community.” Development without good planning might alter the character of our community.
Given the County’s history of over 20 years promoting economic development, it is worthwhile to evaluate what efforts have been more or less successful at retaining and attracting a variety of businesses. We can look at a recent example of infrastructure development on South 20th Street in Downtown Los Alamos. This project enabled five parcels of County-owned land to be made available for commercial or mixed-use development.
The County Council voted Aug. 28 to approve the sale of the first of these parcels. The County used a request for proposal (RFP) process for these property sales. Because the responses to the RFPs included confidential information, only the selected proposal is discussed in public. The RFP process seems like a good idea, but it would be useful if some information on all proposals received could be made public so the selection process could be more transparent.
My perspective of what might help retain or attract businesses is consistent with some of the items in the April 2010 “Los Alamos County Economic Vitality Strategic Plan.” For example, community broadband and regularly scheduled commercial air service are useful for economic development and for residents and visitors.
An area that I think is important but not emphasized in the 2010 plan is an expansion of educational programs at our local community college (UNM-LA). Adequate housing, or at least more housing availability, and land for commercial development are also identified in the 2010 plan. Some progress is being made on most of these areas.
I would like to hear your thoughts on economic development. You can contact me by sending an email to Ryti4Council@gmail.com.