Citizen Shane and other things we should be thankful for

By Mark Lautman

Published 11/25/11


I think Thanksgiving is our best holiday. Once a year, even if it’s just for 25 seconds right before dinner, Americans acknowledge how lucky we are – even when we aren’t.

One of the best things about being in the economic development business is that you end up working around people who have gone “all in” on making their community a better place. There are thousands of people like this around the state. These people epitomize Thanksgiving and make me grateful I live here.

Shane D’Onofrio is a prime example. I met him a couple weeks ago after he invited my son Lucas and I over to his house on a Sunday afternoon to talk about how our economic development think tank programs might help veterans find jobs.

I’m guessing he’s in his early thirties. He and his wife live in an unassuming home in Rio Rancho and appear to be your average run-of-the-mill suburban couple struggling to raise a family – that is, until you see what they are doing in their backyard.

When we drove up there was a sign on the door directing us to come around back. When we walked around the side of the house we saw rows of cars, all with purple heart veteran’s license plates, parked up against a large garage workshop building. Once in the door we found Shane and his wife serving dinner to 30-plus vets and their families, something they apparently do on a regular basis.

We learned that he and his wife have built a full service veterans service center in their back yard – funded by his own monthly disability check and contributions. In addition to the common area where everyone was eating, they have a computer center with five or six work stations, several private offices, a workout room, massage therapy room, woodshop and a food and sundry warehouse where they store and make food and packages for vets living on the streets. Upstairs they’ve built a living area for homeless veterans they run into when they are out making deliveries. He has helped a lot people already. All indications are he is just getting started. His goal is to help a million vets.

I don’t know if he was honored as a hero for his military service, but what Shane, his wife and their supporters are doing in his backyard is heroic. I’m thankful that I get to live and work among people like them.

Before the Thanksgiving turkey tryptophan wears off and you return to contemplating the uncertainties of the new year, here are some other things New Mexicans might want to be thankful for:

Los Alamos didn’t burn down this summer. We have almost $14 billion in our state permanent fund. The Lobos won a football game. The Spaceport is almost finished.

The state’s unemployment rate has fallen for six consecutive months to 6.6 percent (although that’s because many people have left the workforce). The rate of year-over-year job growth in September was 0.2 percent, a net gain of 1,700 jobs, and the fourth straight month of job growth.

The Albuquerque area’s unemployment rate is 7 percent compared to 8.9 percent a year ago. In Farmington, employment grew by 1.9 percent over 2010, or 500 jobs, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent. Las Cruces added 800 jobs in September, and its unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent.

Year-to-date, Santa Fe has added 200 jobs (up 0.3 percent), and the unemployment rate is now 5.4 percent. Lea County’s unemployment rate is 4.5 percent. Eddy County’s jobless rate is 4 percent. Employment in the state’s mining and logging sectors (including oil and gas extraction) has increased 9.1 percent this year. While we are not out of the woods, we should be thankful – it’s a lot worse in other parts of the country.

One last thing:

Pegasus Holdings, a Washington, D.C.-based technology company recently announced that they are going to build a medium-sized town on 20 square miles somewhere in the state, populated entirely by robots. If we can figure out how to count the robots as employees and get them to pay taxes, we will have even more to be thankful for next year.