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Calling all millennials: South Lake Tahoe’s future depends on you

Claire Cudahy
ccudahy@tahoedailytribune.com
Tahoe Mountain Lab founders David and Jamie Orr gave a report to city council on the progress of economic development in South Lake Tahoe.
Courtesy / Dan Wallisch |

In a shifting world where being labeled “Instagramable” is a compliment and millennials dominate offices with new ideas on a flexible work-life balance, South Lake Tahoe is poised for success, according to two local entrepreneurs.

Tahoe Mountain Lab founders David and Jamie Orr presented an economic development report to the South Lake Tahoe city council at the Oct. 18 meeting that painted an exciting picture of the Basin’s future.

“The conversation about South Lake Tahoe is going from one of dingy hotels, gambling and casinos to one of work and play, recreation, beautiful hotels and beautiful scenery,” said David.

The South Shore’s power couple facilitated the creation of the South Lake Tahoe Community Economic Development Task Force in 2014, and over the last two years has been working alongside the city to foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem to attract more businesses to the area.

In 2014 the task force set a goal of attracting $1 billion in capital investment to the South Shore; at present, there has been over $540 million invested.

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“Right now we are at over 100 members, and 20 percent of our members have cited that they would not be here otherwise if it weren’t for the Mountain Lab,” explained David.

“We have 50 plus companies represented in Tahoe Mountain Lab. Fourteen of them are remote workers, we have one Benefit Corp, six nonprofits, and 29 other entities represented in our building.”

The success of the co-working space has a lot to do with “business incubation,” added Jamie.

“If they need legal support we have lawyers on site; if they need real estate help or coding or programming or graphic design there is someone within our walls that can help them with that.”

The Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce now has an office on site to assist businesses as well.

David pointed to unique companies and emerging trends on the South Shore, like the burgeoning brewery scene and the artist collaborative High Vibe Society. He also cited the advances made on Ski Run Boulevard thanks to Corey Rich’s video production company and Chris McNamara’s website, OutdoorGearLab.

“They are investing money on Ski Run Boulevard and making it an outdoor tech hub,” he expressed.

MILLENNIAL ATTRACTION

With an aging population in El Dorado County, millennials are essential to a successful and diverse economy, reported the Orrs.

“The millennial generation is starting to take over. They are now becoming the leaders of businesses, employees, they are the majority demographic in most areas,” said David, who has noticed an influx of remote workers coming to South Lake Tahoe.

“Millennials like to have flexibility in how they work. It’s often been referred to as the gig economy or freelance economy, which gives them the ability to pick up and leave, and live where they want to play versus live where they work. South Lake Tahoe is very poised to take advantage of that.”

Targeted marketing is key, he said, before debuting a commercial created for El Dorado County that depicts the region as a hip place to live and work — the kind of spot where you kick off your day with an early morning mountain bike ride before heading to the office.

Improvements in connectivity, both cellular and broadband, are necessary to facilitate the attraction of this type of workforce — a task that the Tahoe Prosperity Center has undertaken.

Recommendations to the city included adopting existing business clusters — health and wellness, environmental science, and tourism and recreation — as official business clusters and working to bridge the gap in capital available to smaller entrepreneurial endeavors by actively applying for grant funding to redistribute.

The creation of a makers space for artists was also suggested.

IMPROVED EDUCATION

“It’s not just about supporting and attracting new businesses to the town, we also need to make sure there is a prepared workforce and our current population can participate in that new economy,” expressed Jamie.

Jamie — who has been working on a statewide committee called Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy — spoke about programs she has helped bolster at Lake Tahoe Community College, like adult education in hospitality, tourism, recreation and retail.

Additional coursework is now offered in the field of environmental technology and sustainability, she explained, and cybersecurity and computer science programming is in the works.

The partnership between LTCC and the Lake Tahoe Unified School District is also essential in challenging and preparing high school students with college-level courses, she added.

The key is “getting them young,” said Jamie, who described a successful Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) camp she hosted over the summer for middle school students.

“We need internships,” added Jamie, pointing to LTCC’s growing program that has tripled in the last year.

“At Tahoe Mountain Lab we ran a cohort of five undergraduates that pretty much got let loose among all of our entrepreneurs for the summer to work on any project that was of interest to them,” she explained.

“So we had students working on soldering hardware for a startup company out of Reno; we had students working on business plans for new startups.”

Jamie recommended the city work with the college to offer internships in public administration and policy.

REGIONAL COLLABORATION

“The regional economy really impacts this area, and I would say the changes in Reno are going to have a drastic impact on South Lake Tahoe in the coming years — and already is,” said David.

David cited connections with other co-working spaces in the Basin, including The Lift in Truckee and The Mill on the North Shore, and participation in conversations on technology in the Basin at the North Shore Chamber Tech Summit and with Tahoe Silicon Mountain.

The Orrs have also been working on economic development on a broader scale through partnerships and panel discussions with organizations in El Dorado County, Douglas County, Carson City, Reno, Silicon Valley, and other mountain communities like Telluride.

“Maintaining a strong relationship with our neighbors will help us create a vibrant economy,” explained David.

THE CHALLENGE

Jamie concluded the presentation with a challenge: “How do we actively leverage our current momentum to create economic resilience?”

A focus on creating all levels of housing; public and private partnerships to develop infrastructure; marketing to attract millennials; leadership collaboration; bold and innovative thinking; maintaining environmental integrity; and developing the arts community, education and recreation, according to the Orrs.

In other words, “Community development is economic development.”


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