Sandia LabNews

‘Good neighbor Sandia’ helping state’s small businesses on variety of technical problems


The word is spreading rapidly among New Mexico’s small businesses that Sandians are often able and eager to lend their expertise to help them solve technical problems. Even better news for the businesses: Up to $10,000 worth of assistance per year is free to qualified firms, thanks to a unique arrangement between Sandia and the State of New Mexico.Now a little more than six months old, the Sandia-run New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program is funded by the state, which“forgives” Sandia up to $1.8 million/year in state gross receipts taxes in return for providing that much help to small businesses (see “How unique program got started . . .” on page 4).

“Enthusiasm for this new program is tremendous,” says Vic Chavez, Manager of Regional and Small Business Partnering Dept. 1302. “This is a great way for Sandia to give something back to the small businesses in our state that have long supported us and helped us succeed. “Sandia technical staff members are eager participants,” he continues. “Once they hear about the program, they want to help our small businesses.

Although the program is still in its infancy, we already have several staff members who have helped on multiple projects.”One such staffer is Terry Smith of Computer Applications for Manufacturing Dept. 14111, who has completed interesting projects with two small businesses and is now working with a third. The completed projects are with:

P&M Signs in Mountainair, which needed help refining an assembly for making highway signs out of recycled materials including plastic milk jugs and ground-up juniper wood. The company is now working with New Mexico State University on “downstream processes” for manufacturing and marketing such signs as an alternative to traditional aluminum signs. Among other benefits, P&M believes its signs are potentially less hazardous to vehicles and their occupants when vehicles collide with them.

Radcoof Roswell, which currently sells dog-shaped picture frames at shows around the country, needed help to quickly turn a sketch of a cat into a production mold for making a similar product for cat fanciers. “These sure aren’t your run-of-the-mill types of jobs Sandians normally do,” Terry says, “but the small businesses are glad to get our help and enthusiastic. Helping them is personally satisfying and fun at the same time.”

Projects all over the state map

Projects are about as varied as small business itself in New Mexico. Here’s a short sampling of firms and descriptions of assistance requested as of December 2000, along with primary Sandia technical contacts:

Estes International Farm and Truck Supply, Roswell. Mechanical revision to the cooling system of a front-end loader to eliminate air-borne contaminants collecting in the cooling system. Lothar Bieg (14184).

Law Enforcement Technologies, Inc., Corrales. Assistance incorporating autonomous vehicle operation techniques into a law enforcement tool application. A. Keith Miller (15252).

Ponderosa Valley Winery, Ponderosa. Identify or develop a solvent or adhesive to patch pin holes in an inflatable tube used in wine making process. Howard Arris (14172).

TPL, Inc., Albuquerque. Technical assistance to provide photolithography facilities for thin film electrode technology investigation. Judith Ruffner (1846).

Lava Block & Brick, Belen. Perform thermal testing to evaluate insulation characteristics of new construction material made from lava aggregate. James Nakos (9134).

Applied Technology Associates (ATA), Inc., Albuquerque. Technical assistance to provide angular motion device testing for vibration susceptibility and shock survivability. Dan Gregory(9125).

FAR-OUT ASSISTANCE! — Even though they may besmall businesses, many such firms in New Mexico areinvolved with high technology. Albuquerque’s AppliedTechnology Associates (ATA) recently worked withSandia’s Dan Gregory (9125) under the NMSBA pro-gram. Sandia helped ATA perform flight qualificationand flight acceptance vibration tests for a future spacemission on a GOES (Geostationary OperationalEnvironmental Satellite).

Although it isn’t a primary program goal,ongoing business relationships between the firms and Sandia can come from these projects. Applied Technology could become a Sandia supplier as a result of this project and is even a potential ten-ant for the Sandia Science and Technology Park,Vic says.There are two main requirements for the Small Business Assistance program: 1) Participating companies must be bonafide for-profit New Mexico small businesses — generally 500 employees or less, and 2) Sandia can help them through the program only when such help isn’t available for a reasonable cost through private sources; in other words, Sandia can’t compete with private-sector firms offering similar services. (Several other restrictions are noted in the sidebar below.) As of Feb. 1, 160 small businesses throughout New Mexico had requested Sandia’s help, and 90projects had been started, with many already completed.

Sandia works through a host of outside organizations throughout the state to inform small businesses about the NMSBA program and explain how the Labs can help them. They include the Association of Commerce and Industry, the Rio Grande Minority Purchasing Council, New Mexico Economic Development Department, Northern New Mexico Small Business Alliance, and many more. Sandia’s own Supplier Relations Dept.10205 also actively promotes the NMSBA program.

Bigger program in future?

Assuming the Small Business Assistance pro-gram is judged successful by state businesses and legislators and Sandia management, it could expand in the future, Vic says. Sandia now pays about $45 million a year in state gross receipts taxes (more than any other entity in the state),and the state “forgives” up to $1.8 million of that per year through the crediting arrangement. Vic says Sandia may ask the New Mexico legislature to expand the program and amount credited as early as next spring during the 2002 legislative session, but the program must first prove its worth at the current level. Sandia gives progress reports back to the state periodically through the economic development secretary, and interested state legislators and other officials also follow program progress. To provide easy access for small businesses,the NMSBA program operates in Albuquerque out of the Lockheed Martin Building on University Ave. Other team members besides Vic include Mariann Johnston, Toni Leon Kovarik, Kim Ford,and Mona Plummer (all 1302). Small businesses or Sandians wanting additional information about how they can participate in the program can contact the NMSBA office at 505-843-4171, 1-800-765-1678, or e-mailsbpadmin@sandia.gov.

Labs’ upper management supports NMSBA program

The NMSBA program has lots of support from Sandia’s upper management, says pro-gram manager Vic Chavez. “VPs Bob Eagan (6000), Al Romig (1000), and Lenny Martinez(14000) are particularly strong supporters and encourage people in their groups to work with us.” Lenny says the program is filling a real need in New Mexico. Data gathered several years ago show that 95 percent of firms operating in the state are small businesses and that 46 percent of the state’s workers are employed by them. But small businesses tend to fail more frequently than large ones, throwing people out of work. There were 645 business failures in 1997.“This is the context in which we are operating,” Lenny says. “It’s critical for us to establish regional partnerships for a variety of reasons . . . because of the high mortality rates in small business, we might actually be able to minimize some of the technical exposures that some of the small businesses face.”

How unique program got started and how it works

The New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program is modeled loosely on the successful DOE/Defense Programs Small Business Initiative. Sandia has since 1993 provided more than1,500 technical assistances to small businesses throughout the US under that program. The impetus for starting the new program came about several years ago as a Sandia group was exploring other ways to help New Mexico small businesses that do not qualify under the DOE program, which requires some Defense Pro-grams connection. NMSBA program manager Vic Chavez (1302) says the group came up with the idea to ask the State of New Mexico to “forgive” Sandia some of its gross receipts taxes in return for helping small businesses throughout the state solve their technical problems. The group included Vic, former Sandia VP Dan Hartley, VP and Chief Technology Officer Al Romig (1000), Corporate Business Development and Partnerships Director Dave Goldheim (1300),and Sandia consultant Fred O’Cheskey.

Other key Sandians and organizations involved in the effort include Gloria Zamora(12123), Chuck Meyers (1030), Larry Greher (11200), and the Controller organization (10500).“After we refined the idea with the help of various individuals and groups, including the University of New Mexico Bureau of Economic Research, our friends at the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce asked State Rep. John Heaton of Carlsbad and State Sen. Roman Maes to introduce it in the legislature,” Vic says. “It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight, but lots of people warmed to the idea and helped us make it happen.”

Helping rural areas is a priority

To encourage helping businesses in rural areas, the act establishing the program (Laboratory Partnership with Small Business Tax Credit Act) limits Sandia to helping Bernalillo County businesses up to only $5,000 worth of assistance annually, while businesses outside the county can get up to $10,000 worth of help.Increasing employment opportunities in rural areas is a priority of many New Mexico political leaders (at the state and national levels), so the NMSBA program fits nicely with that, Vic says.

State labor department figures show some counties have double-digit unemployment levels while the state’s average unemployment rate is near five percent. Sandia spends about 35 percent of its tax credit on businesses in Bernalillo County (including Albuquerque), and about 65 percent outside the county. (Vic notes that it costs Sandia more in time and travel expenses to help those outside the county, so outlying projects really do need more funding.) Dave Goldheim believes strongly that the pro-gram is great for Sandia and for state small businesses. “The legislature, governor, and other state government supporters demonstrated leadership and a clear commitment to growing small businesses and stimulating the economic foundation of New Mexico,” he says