Health means prosperity in Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Health means prosperity in Tahoe

Matthew Renda
mrenda@tahoedailytribune.com

Jason Shueh / Tahoe Daily TribuneThree of the thousands of riders who particpated in the 2010 America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride on June 6 cycle past the lake. Experts say more events like the annual event that circles Lake Tahoe could help bring more high profile athletes to train in the high altitude environment.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Economists said the Lake Tahoe Basin is positioned to market itself as a premier health and wellness destination catering to patrons of the high-end spa market, those looking to rehabilitate from injuries or illness, or world-class athletes looking for a high-altitude training ground.

Applied Development Economics, a Sacramento-based economic development firm in charge of spearheading the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan identified health and wellness as one of three sectors, or clusters – the other two being geotourism and green building – capable of ignite Tahoe’s flailing economy.

After presenting the draft prosperity plan in mid-July, ADE has continued to collect input from community residents, business owners and government representatives in the lead up to a presentation to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in late August.

Implementation of the finalized action plan is scheduled for September.

Tahoe has the opportunity to brand itself as a health oriented destination for individuals on both sides of the wellness spectrum, said Jason Collin of Barton Home Health during a presentation regarding the health and wellness cluster.

Tahoe can expand its medical facilities while introducing fields of medical specialization such as orthopedics, spine medicine and oncology, Collin said.

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“Tahoe is an ideal place to rest and recover,” he said.

The basin should focus on augmenting current Internet based health operations, utilizing telemedicine technologies to increase traffic and awareness of medical facilities, Collin said.

Furthermore, once Tahoe is established as a region known for providing quality medical care, centers which focus on facilitating skills for a career in the medical field while providing professional development will begin to crop up, he added.

Tahoe can also market itself as a destination for athletes looking for an ideal place to prepare and train – whether it be winter athletes who use the ski/snowboard facilities, or summer athletes such as marathon runners who take advantage of the altitude to refine their cardiovascular prowess, Collin said.

“Tahoe is higher in altitude than Boulder, Colo., which always attracts marathon runners and bikers for training,” Collin said. “There’s no reason Tahoe can’t compete with other places as a destination for premiere athletes.”

Having famous athletes reside and train in a particular area can give a community additional cache and cause others interested in a given sport to congregate to a region, Collin said.

A concerted effort to bring high profile athletic events – such as the Amgen Tour of California bike race – can expose the beauty and allure of the Lake Tahoe Basin to a world-wide audience, he added.

As an example of what the prosperity plan’s vision of health and wellness looks like, some point to the north shore Boulder Bay project that would transform the former site of the Tahoe Biltmore from a hotel and casino into what developers are branding a wellness destination with a 10,000-square-foot spa.

Heather Bacon, president of Boulder Bay, said in a previous article published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza that Boulder Bay will facilitate longer stays from visitors and contribute more to the local economy as a result.

“I think the nature of Boulder Bay as a health and wellness center means that people won’t just stop by to gamble for a little bit and move on,” said Bacon.

Gaming is a primary attraction has been in decline for twenty years, according to Bill Eddington, director of the Institute for Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada.

“By all standard measure, gaming in Lake Tahoe has declined by more than half since 1990,” said Eddington. “Local business owners … have to realize that revenue is not coming back, even if the national economy recovers.”

Despite the prevalence of optimism at the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan meetings, organizers and participants alike, realize that limitations to Tahoe achieving optimal economic output exist.

For example, the presence of blight and deteriorating infrastructure in communities around the lake contradict the message of health and well-being.

“You can’t say to a patient, we can rehabilitate you just like we are going to rehabilitate this blight,” Collin said.

Fragmented broadband access throughout the basin curtails efforts to increase telemedicine and e-Health efforts.

The population loss and subsequent brain drain have eroded the pool of talent that have the necessary workforce qualifications to work in the medical field. SAID WHO?

The basin has witnessed an exodus of 9,500 residents from 2000 – 2008, according to statistics provided by ADE.