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Editorial: Federal labs an essential part of our state’s economy

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

– Sandia National Laboratories Director Steve Younger

“Los Alamos National Laboratory is a key economic driver in the region, and we are committed to both growing the local workforce and strengthening the local companies that are crucial in supporting the work we do.”

– LANL Director Thom Mason

There’s a lot of cool science and research going on at the national laboratories based in New Mexico. It ranges from Los Alamos National Lab’s role in ushering in the nuclear age to the hypersonic vehicle Sandia National Labs is pioneering.

And there’s a lot about their technology they can’t tell us, as both play key roles in developing and securing our nation’s nuclear arsenal. But one thing we do know is that while it’s imperative New Mexico broaden its economic base, the labs play a key role in strengthening our state’s economy and boast programs aimed at retaining New Mexico’s talent.

Consider this: Both Sandia and LANL are mining New Mexico talent to fill positions at their facilities. Those jobs range from bookkeepers to computer science, cyber security, radiation techs and electricians. They are also trying to recruit some of our best and brightest scientists, and mechanical and chemical engineers from the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State and New Mexico Tech to fill vital roles in their sensitive research and development projects.

That recruitment isn’t always easy. Sandia director Steve Younger says Facebook, Google and Apple are among competitors for top talent. Younger also cites concerns about the performance of the state’s education systems and the crime rate as challenges in recruiting and keeping a workforce. Despite that, the national labs have upped their labor forces to about 25,000.

⋄  LANL employed 11,743 people in 2018 – up 660 from 2017 (82 percent of employees reside in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties).

⋄  Sandia employed 12,769 in 2018. Employment is expected to top 13,000 this year. About 10 percent are employed at Sandia’s Livermore, Calif., facility.

Sandia has been lauded for the diversity and inclusion of its workforce. More than a third of Sandia’s positions are filled by women and ethnic minorities. Just last week, Forbes named Sandia to a list of 500 “best employers for diversity.”

The two labs’ investment in the N.M. economy doesn’t end with their workforce. Both are committed to using New Mexico suppliers, contractors and subcontractors.

⋄  Sandia’s spending in New Mexico included $317 million in subcontracts with small businesses, an increase of more than $50 million from fiscal 2017. Sandia paid $95 million in gross receipts taxes in New Mexico.

⋄  Of the more than $756 million in goods and services purchased by LANL in fiscal 2018, 55 percent (more than $420 million) went to New Mexico businesses, up from 45 percent the year before. Contracts awarded by LANL to N.M. businesses in fiscal 2018 totaled $269 million, up from $262 million in 2017.

Both laboratories are also using their expertise to help small businesses through organizations such as the New Mexico Small Business Association. In 2017, the state of New Mexico, along with Sandia and LANL, invested $4.6 million helping 346 small businesses in 28 counties through the NMSBA program. Both national laboratories are thriving in our state. Sandia spent $3.3 billion last year and expenditures are expected to expand to $3.6 billion this year. LANL has had an annual $3.1 billion impact on the state from 2015-17, according to a University of New Mexico report.

While we hope the labs’ technology behind the nation’s nuclear arsenal never has to be put to the test, the growth of both labs is good for New Mexico. We hope their commitment to hiring local people and working with local business continues to grow, as well.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.