- Associated Press - Thursday, July 18, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Responsible for infusing about $3 billion a year into New Mexico’s economy, Los Alamos National Laboratory is being held up by lab officials, politicians and others as an example of the kind of high-tech economic drivers the state needs more of.

The lab on Thursday released the findings of an economic impact report prepared by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Aside from the federal funding that flows through the lab, employees’ salaries and the purchasing of goods and services, analysts identified more than 24,000 direct and indirect jobs that are supported by the lab.

Scientists at the lab work on everything from national security to space exploration projects and problems related to public health and the environment.

Los Alamos Lab Director Thom Mason said the report underlines the lab’s role as a major employer that has created good paying, high-tech jobs. He also pointed to the resulting ripple effect.

“Part of being a good neighbor is bolstering the economic well-being of the communities where we live and operate,” he said.

The analysis looked at payroll, procurement and spending data for the 2016-2018 federal fiscal years.

Los Alamos began as a secret city in the mountains of northern New Mexico where government scientists and the military gathered as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. Since the 1940s, it has grown into a massive complex.

In Albuquerque, Sandia National Laboratories contributes another $3 billion a year in spending with more than $1 billion going to the procurement of goods and services nationally.

Analysts who prepared the latest economic study on Los Alamos said most of the lab’s impact was the result of household expenditures of employees and vendors.

State Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said the research highlights the importance of attracting and retaining high-paying jobs.

“The salary and spending from employees at the federal laboratories creates thousands of other jobs at businesses across the state and those incomes help families build stability and wealth,” she said.

The report released Thursday showed direct spending by Los Alamos and its employees generated $1.9 billion in sales to New Mexico businesses. Employees and vendors also paid $214 million in taxes in 2017.

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation say spending by the labs is expected to continue as Los Alamos and Sandia see budget increases, particularly for nuclear weapons work.

At Los Alamos, that includes money to resume production of plutonium cores for nuclear bombs.

Federal officials have set a deadline of 2030 for ramped up production, but critics have questioned whether that can be met. The work is being split between Los Alamos and the Savanna River Site in South Carolina.

The mission of producing the pits has been based at Los Alamos for years but none have been manufactured since 2011 as the lab was dogged by a string of safety lapses.

Under a spending bill supported by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, $551 million is authorized for ongoing plutonium research and pit production at Los Alamos. Another $195.5 million would pay for soil and water remediation and removal of radioactive waste resulting from years of nuclear research.

The New Mexico Democrat said the labs’ economic influence can’t be understated, noting that the workforces at Sandia and Los Alamos have each grown by more than 2,000 employees since he began serving in the Senate.

Los Alamos has close to 1,400 job openings, many to replace workers who are retiring. The workforce includes more than 14,750 employees and contractors.

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