Tahoe Prosperity Center column: Making life in Tahoe attainable
March 18, 2017
Why did you come to Tahoe? For me, it was to snowboard for one winter. I'm originally from Florida, so beaches, not mountains typically call to me.
But, in February 1995, I made the move from Santa Barbara to Tahoe. That was an awesome winter. Snowboarding every day, working with fun people at Sierra-at-Tahoe, hanging out at Rojo's and Lakeside Inn at night. Pretty perfect days for a 26-year-old in between so-called "real" jobs. And then what? Well, as is the story for many of us, the summer was even better (in my opinion) so I stayed.
Yes, I had to work two jobs, but they were both fun and one was outdoors at Camp Richardson. Fun times for sure. Eventually a "real job" became my reality again, but I found one here, so that was good. Marriage, two kids and a house payment followed. Working your way into a "real job" was doable 20 years ago if you worked hard.
Times have changed, though. The Tahoe Prosperity Center's Measuring for Prosperity report (in essence a "state of the lake" community and economic data source) shows that over the past 20 years, wages have not kept pace with other communities. Combine that with a double digit percentage increase in housing costs and you've gone from the "sure I can see staying here, buying a house and raising a family" to the "maybe commuting to Tahoe for work won't be so bad" idea. And why is that a problem? Because, our community shouldn't have half of its workforce driving over an hour to get to their job. As a regional economic and community development organization, our goal is to find ways to ensure that residents who want to live and work in Tahoe can do so.
The benefits to a strong, robust, local workforce are tremendous. Here are just a few pulled from the International Economic Development Corporation Guide to Economic Development:
Affordable housing that is developed in urban centers, ensures that key workers are not priced out of the local real estate market, and forced to commute from outside the area.
Talented youth, the new key to any truly successful economy, look for high-grade natural environments and places with real urban charm: sociable and walk-able places with restaurants, cafes, bars, night clubs, health clubs and public spaces.
Mixed-use developments include office space, shopping, entertainment and residential uses. Mixed-use projects should include more market-rate and low-income housing to meet demand for housing closer to the workplace.
Eco-tourism, a nature-based form of tourism, has seen large growth. The main motivation of the tourists is the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas. The benefit for host communities is that along with generating economic benefits, it enables natural areas to be conserved and provides alternative employment and income opportunities.
Sound like good ideas to you? These are mutually beneficial — meaning they benefit residents and businesses. These ideas also benefit the economy and the environment. With these plans implemented, we would see growth of wages, investment in the region and new housing for locals.
The Tahoe Prosperity Center vision is simple: revitalize our towns, ensure a strong local workforce and improve quality of life for residents. The road to get there may be bumpy with lots of potholes (to use a current and familiar analogy), but our hope is to smooth out the bumps by keeping a focus on the end result. As a region, let's prioritize these goals and see the benefits realized for our local residents and those who want to be here, but aren't yet able to make that their reality.
Heidi Hill Drum is the CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center, a Tahoe Basin-wide organization dedicated to uniting Tahoe's communities to strengthen regional prosperity. She has expertise in collaborative governance and is a 21-year resident. Heidi and her husband John are happily raising their two boys in Lake Tahoe.