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One-on-One with Mark Lautman

By Autumn Gray
Assistant Business Editor
          Maybe Mark Lautman's life is the result of good karma or God's plan. Perhaps positive intentions led to positive outcomes. Or it could be that he holds his tongue just so.
        Lautman's take: He's been in the right place, at the right time, among the right people.
        "I really don't know anybody as lucky as me," says Lautman, a name synonymous with economic development in New Mexico. "I know some people who look like they're having more fun and have done more things, but I don't know anyone that's luckier or gets to live this life. Anybody would take it in a lottery."
        In high school in Seattle, Lautman was shy and small — "maybe the smallest guy in my class," he says.
        He had, and still grapples with, dyslexia. "I probably dial every other number over again. And I read slow." He graduated with a 1.9 grade point average.
        He wanted to play football in ninth grade, but he injured his neck and that ended any hope of contact sports, if size wasn't a factor already.
        Doctors told him he could do one thing: swim. So he committed mind and body to it seven and eight hours a day, becoming good enough to earn a swimming scholarship to the University of New Mexico. "It was the only way I could get through school and stay out of Vietnam. It took me five-and-a-half years to get a degree."
        The last two of those years he coached swimming. One of his athletes just happened to be Cathy Carr, who became a two-time gold medalist in the Olympic games in Munich in 1972.
        About the same time, a brutally honest professor told Lautman if he wanted a career in architecture, which he did, he should join the Peace Corps and develop a portfolio that might make him employable, because his drawing skills weren't going to bring success.
        He applied and heard nothing until 3 1/2 years later. "I was framing apartments, and the Peace Corps had been thrown out of Chile. The Marxists had taken over, and they were looking for a couple more Peace Corps volunteers to come in and start growing the (Peace Corps) program back. ... They were going to host the Pan American Games there in 1975 and wanted their teams not to be embarrassed, and they wanted a U.S. swimming coach that had a world record holder or a medalist. ... And they hunted me down through my parents in Seattle and called me. ... I ended up jumping on a plane and going down to Chile for three years. I was their Olympic swimming coach. I had my own TV show, I was in the newspaper every day. It was like being a celebrity."
        Lautman was 24 years old.
        When he returned to the states, without the portfolio he had initially sought, he did a variety of jobs, from field supervisor for the Alaska Pipeline to home construction in Arizona.
        In 1983, he began in Grants what would be the start of an economic development success story no one could have predicted. He has since led major economic development programs in Rio Rancho, Santa Teresa and at Mesa del Sol, the immense planned, but slow-growing, live-work community just south of the Albuquerque Sunport. In addition to virtually building Rio Rancho in its early years, Lautman has recruited to the Albuquerque area such notable companies as Schott Solar, Fidelity Investments and Albuquerque Studios.
        Most recently, he has started an economic development nonprofit, the Community Economics Lab, located in Journal Center, and has a consulting company, Lautman Economic Architecture.
        Q: You started the nonprofit, a think tank of sorts, to come up with new ways of doing economic development. Why aren't the old recruiting methods good enough today?
        A: In the economic development business, the Internet has wracked the industry. Site selectors can find out most of what they need to know about a community online now. ... And what's happened is over the last probably 15 years, most communities in the U.S. are not really in the recruiting game anymore. ... And the number of communities that are really able to earn a return on investment on a traditional economic development program has been shrinking and is really, really small now, I think. (Albuquerque's and Rio Rancho's programs are exceptions to that, he says).
        Q: What was your very first job?
        A: I had a paper route, and I sold doughnuts door to door (in Seattle).
        Q: How did your team in Chile do?
        A: They canceled the games (because of a political revolution). I stayed another two years. And we had kids (making finals) in maybe 20 percent of the events in the South American Championships.
        Q: Do you still swim?
        A: My brother, Scott, who was world-ranked in six events in his late teens through his 20s, and he's a world-class open-water swimmer, he got me into doing these open-water swims about 10 years ago. So we've got this quest to swim all the connective waterways between continents. So several years ago, we swam the Straits of Gibraltar, from Spain to Morocco. ... We swam the Bosperous in Istanbul, from Europe to Asia. We did the Panama Canal. It's 375 yards under the Bridge of the Americas. ... And we did the Straits of Magellan, which we're kind of counting as the Antarctica one. Antarctica's like 1,500 miles, so you can't swim that. ... So we have two left that are swimmable, we think — the Bering Strait and the Red Sea. (He is also an avid mountain climber — 14,000-foot Mt. Rainier in Washington and 20,000-foot Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina included in his achievements.)
        Q: Do you have any regrets?
        A: I don't have any regrets at all, but you think about you know, if I could go back and live my life over again what things I would do. I kind of have in mind that it would have been fun to fly jets, like fighters. You always wish you'd spent more time with your kids. I find myself analyzing things to the point where I sound more critical than I am, so I think I've probably hurt people's feeling when I didn't mean to or they didn't deserve it. I would have liked to have worked in Manhattan, like on the New York Stock Exchange for a couple of years. And I regret not studying harder, being better educated. I wish I was a better writer.
        Q: You say you've been lucky. A lot of people say we create our own luck or that people have good outcomes because of positive thinking. What do you believe?
        A: You're not going to be lucky if you don't work hard and if you don't pay attention, and I think it's hard to be lucky if you don't set goals and do all the things that are required to basically take advantage of luck. But I've got friends who are way smarter than me who ... for example, ... wherever I've worked, there's been production way out of scale with any contribution I've made. And that's how I define luck. I think I worked harder than anybody I know in the business, so I don't know anybody that worked harder than me. Lots of people smarter. But wherever I went I just had like the right people around me or the right circumstances.
        Q: Do you have any philosophy by which you try to live your life?
        A: My brothers and I, we were pretty competitive, not so competitive we didn't like each other. But we adopted this philosophy later on — probably in our 30s. It's a play off of 'he who dies with the most toys wins.' We are, 'He who dies with the most peak experiences wins.' And a peak experience is, if God's gonna let you live three days in your life, and you're gonna die on Wednesday, but you get to go relive three days of your life, what three days would they be? Those days would be (considered) peak experiences. So the objective of your life should be to live a maximum number of those days.
        The Basics: Born Mark Andrew Lautman in Ann Arbor, Mich., on June 7, 1949, but grew up in Seattle; bachelor's degree of university studies in architecture, economics and geography from the University of New Mexico; married to Mary Anne since Jan. 12, 1985; children, Sarah, 32, Megan, 30, and Lucas, 25; grandchildren Mallory, 4, Charlotte, 2, and Noah, 1; black Labrador named Malcolm.
        Position: A founding member of the Community Economics Lab and owner of consulting firm Lautman Economic Architecture. Former director of Grants Industrial Development; vice president of economic development for Amrep Corp. in Rio Rancho; president of Santa Teresa Real Estate Development Corp.; and vice president of economic development for Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises in New Mexico.
        What You Didn't Know: "The last time I cried I was playing hockey in junior high (after losing a tournament). I get choked up sometimes, but that was the last time I wept. I think it goes with my luck."
       


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