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Opinion: What ‘prosperity’ means for Tahoe

I recently received a call from a local resident wondering what we mean when we use the word "prosperity" and what our organization does for Tahoe.

For those of you who haven't yet heard about the Tahoe Prosperity Center, our mission is: Uniting Tahoe's communities to strengthen regional prosperity. To explain "prosperity" further, the Webster English dictionary definition of prosperity is "the condition of being successful or thriving, especially economic well-being."

Now you may be asking — how does the Tahoe Prosperity Center do that?

In my column last month, I talked about how too many local families are living in motels, which is not a suitable home. Imagine trying to do homework, make dinner and relax with a family of four in 300 square feet. Those residents are likely not "thriving economically." There are many organizations doing what they can to help these families. Unfortunately, no one has focused on the inherent problem about why families are living in motels.

A primary reason residents are living in subpar housing is that Tahoe does not offer enough living-wage jobs; and our housing costs are very high. We have lots of seasonal and low-wage jobs and many families link these together to try and make ends meet. But, what happens when you get called off work the morning you were planning to go in because the resort/restaurant/retail/business didn't need you that day? Uncertainty in hours is one example of how tough it is to work in Tahoe. The Tahoe Prosperity Center thinks we can do better both from a housing and jobs perspective.

How does this relate to our goal to strengthen regional prosperity? We are undertaking a Jobs and Workforce Tahoe project this year. We will better understand the needs of employers and employees through interviews and community conversations over the next few months. If you are a local employee or business owner who wants to be interviewed, send us an email at info@tahoeprosperity.org. This information is critical to understanding current job-related issues in our region from all perspectives.

We will also coordinate with local schools and colleges to identify skills needed to train residents for higher-wage jobs, some of which is already being done by the Lake Tahoe Adult Education Consortium. Lake Tahoe Community College is coordinating with the El Dorado County Office of Education, Alpine County and Lake Tahoe Unified School District on some workforce issues. We will identify labor market changes for Tahoe in the next 10 years. This will help ensure we develop solutions that will have a lasting impact — not just for those who want a higher-wage job, but also for our education and business partners to be sure they are planning for changes in the future workforce.

As a tourism-based economy, we will always have a seasonal workforce. And that is great for those 25-year-olds who want to move to Tahoe for a winter and ski or snowboard (just as I did 20 years ago). When those workers fall in love with Tahoe and want to stay, buy a home and maybe raise a family here, however, what jobs are there for them after seasonal work?

The Tahoe Prosperity Center is the catalyst for these important conversations, which will lead to positive changes. Let's work together as a lake-wide community to address better jobs along with housing and skills needed for the changing economy. But most importantly — let's work together to improve the overall quality of life for Tahoe's residents, so we can all prosper and "be successful or thriving."

Heidi Hill Drum is the executive director 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 20-year resident of Tahoe. Heidi, with her husband John, are happily raising their two boys in South Lake Tahoe.