Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan: Cultivating a culture of collaboration for the region
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – Those who closely follow public matters in the Lake Tahoe Basin know the region is heavily fraught with sharp fragmentation and stark division. Meanwhile, the outsiders who visit may marvel at how that at-times contentious atmosphere can thrive in such a picturesque rural area that echoes of modest quaintness.
However, understanding that the region is governed by two states, five counties, one city and one town is key to grasping some of the reasons behind the frequent and persistent squabbles that erupt among competing interests and stakeholder factions, said Mike Ward, leader of the newly formed Tahoe Prosperity Center, during an eye-opening presentation last week at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Non-Profit Center.
“The background chatter in the Lake Tahoe Basin is overwhelmingly negative,” Ward said.
Thus, Ward and other officials charged with the monumental task of integrating the recently completed Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan into action items aimed at rejuvenating a sluggish regional economy are attempting to quash the quibbles and foster a renewed spirit of collaboration.
This concept was emphasized again and again during the Wednesday, May 11 public meeting, as Ward gave a progress report on the Tahoe Prosperity Center’s ongoing efforts.
“This effort has always focused on promoting a multi-jurisdictional collaboration, with governing entities from both sides of the stateline participating,” said Ward, adding that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has participated from the beginning of the process.
Ward said the public sector is not the only one riddled with disagreement, as prolonged debates between environmental groups and economic development groups are hindering progress in both private and open arenas.
“There is a perceived food fight between 20th century environmentalism and 20th century economic development,” Ward said. “The old way of looking at environmentalism – a no-people intrusion approach – is not the way to sustain natural assets. The old “Build Baby Build” approach to economic development is no longer relevant either.”
Rather, Ward said private enterprise interested in opening shop in the basin understands the need to do so in an environmentally compatible way, and the public sector needs private funds to subsidize the expensive ecological rehabilitation programs, thus paving the way for a public/private relationship as espoused by Joanne Marchetta, TRPA executive director, in her strategic vision for the bistate agency’s new direction.
“We have to learn to build a bridge between the environmental and economic interests,” Ward said.
Ward praised Applied Development Economics – the Sacramento-based economic development firm in charge of the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan – for identifying three clusters or business sectors, which, if properly cultivated, could pave the way to a more vigorous economy.
Those three clusters – health and wellness, geotourism and green building/environmental innovation – are compatible to Tahoe’s regulatory limitations, he said, as heavy industry and manufacturing will never be present in the basin due to the sensitive ecology and the nationwide commitment to its preservation.
Thus, instead of inventing new areas of industry, Ward said the plan looks for methods to augment sectors which already exist.
In order to do that, the Tahoe Prosperity Center plans to open offices on both the North and South Shore. Ward downplayed the need for a physical office, as the Tahoe Prosperity Center plans to hold most of its meetings in public venues throughout the basin.
“We want to come to the community as opposed to bringing the community to us,” he said.
Ward said he plans to form a large board of directors that has comprehensive representation from public and private institutions from around the basin.
That board will then be tasked with implementing many of the action items which issued from the prosperity plan as well as leveraging access to capital investment.
“Without leadership, the prosperity plan is just that – a plan,” he said. “It’s just a website and there is no moving forward. The mission of the prosperity center is to convene with the business community and provide a direct impetus toward energizing the clusters.”
Most importantly, according to Ward, is the relentless focus on collaboration that reaches across arbitrary geographical and business divisions and establishes a unified and consistent vision for the 50,000 inhabitants of the basin.
“We have to mitigate the negative voices and shift the balance to a more positive attention to the fact that prosperity and a homegrown economy that is not solely reliant on second homeowners is possible,” he said.