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Sandia’s economic impact grew in 2018

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Stephen Younger

Sandia National Laboratories spent $3.3 billion last year, up nearly $200 million from the previous year, and director Stephen Younger says he expects to see continued growth.

“It’s just been a tremendous year in terms of technical accomplishments and growth of the laboratory,” Younger said Wednesday during a meeting with Journal editors and reporters. “I’m tremendously proud.”

The growth is largely driven by efforts to modernize and maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, which makes up around 60 percent of the work done at the labs, Younger said.

Lab spending in New Mexico included $317 million in subcontracts with small businesses. That was a $50 million increase over the 2017 fiscal year.

Of the total spent on such subcontracts, 29 percent was with female-owned businesses, 27 percent with disadvantaged businesses and 13 percent with veteran-owned businesses.

“Stimulating small business in New Mexico is something we’re very proud of,” Younger said.

Sandia paid $95 million in gross receipts taxes in New Mexico.

Younger said Sandia’s total expenditures are expected to expand to $3.6 billion in the current year.

That growth is also manifesting itself in the number of people employed by the labs.

There were 12,258 employees at the end of the 2017 fiscal year and 12,769 at the end of 2018. Younger said there are plans to get that number up to 13,000 this year.

“We’ve looked at that very carefully in terms of sustainability, but the amount of work that is coming in, the amount of backlog we have indicates that can be a very stable position,” Younger said.

The labs are based in Albuquerque and have a smaller branch in Livermore, Calif., that makes up about 10 percent of the workforce.

Recruiting – mainly in mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, cybersecurity and project management – continues to be a challenge for the labs.

“We find Facebook, Google, Apple can make offers that we can’t, but we have a value proposition that they don’t,” Younger said. “We are not in the mode of ‘We’re going to bring you in, use you up and throw you away.’ ”

Instead, he said, Sandia employees have the opportunity to take on different jobs throughout their careers at Sandia, all while living in the same house and having their children attending the same schools.

The state’s reputation for a poor educational system and high crime rates contributes to the challenge in recruiting, he said.

However, Younger said, the labs continue to meet their hiring goals, keeping the labs’ “optimum demographic” of early career and experienced employees intact.

Deputy labs director Dave Douglass said around 60 percent of the workforce has been at the labs fewer than 10 years.

“We have a very vibrant workforce,” Douglass said. “It’s a very high-energy place right now.”

The other challenge Younger has undertaken since taking the helm at Sandia in 2017 is increasing diversity and inclusion within the labs’ workforce.

Forbes named Sandia to a list of 500 “best employers for diversity” on Tuesday.

According to recent data, 34 percent of the labs’ total workforce is made up of ethnic minorities and 32 percent is women.

“We view diversity as a strategic advantage,” Younger said. “In addition to it being the right thing to do for people, it’s the right thing to do for national security.”