Looking beyond the tourists for money
May 30, 2003
Everywhere you look this community is running out of money E the school district, South Lake Tahoe, the county, nonprofits, etc. While the reasons for this are many, the reality is that this community needs to generate more money for the public and private sectors.
The continued demands that are placed on the local community including environmental improvements, public sector employee wages and benefits, as well as services like police, fire, snow plowing, transportation and recreation we have all grown to expect have continued to strain this community almost to the breaking point. Add to this the high cost of housing and the inability to keep talented employees. I think you get a feeling for what the situation is.
At some point this community needs to grow revenues. However, it sometimes appears that thinking or talking about growing revenues is in poor taste. Instead, we should be concerned with other issues. Baloney. If we don’t grow revenues in this community, people’s livelihood, the local community and the environment will suffer. The economic model for this community as we have known it does not work anymore and a new one needs to be developed.
How do we do it? First, think long term or at least try to. The question we should all be asking is what are the financial needs of the community? What are the needs in the next five to 10 years? The next 20 years? We need to understand the big financial picture. Too often we get stuck in trying to fix a problem for the next year without really understanding the big picture. By approaching the problem with a macro or systems perspective instead of a project to project perspective, we may come up with an entirely different set of solutions.
Second, grow the tourism economy. At the recent SMG tourism conference I challenged attendees to grow the revenues that visitors currently spend here. According to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the basinwide tourism economy is estimated at $1.5 billion. My challenge was to double the revenues with limited number of people over the next 10 years. That would mean an extra $25 million in local taxes, not to mention all the dollars for private sector business owners and employees. While the goal may have been ambitious, the reasoning was sound. The existing visitor patterns and spending levels are simply not generating the revenues we need given the demands we have.
Third, diversify away from tourism. Everyone agrees that tourism cannot deliver all our needs. But it can serve as a stepping stone to growing other economic opportunities. The South Shore, including the city of South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County, Douglas County and the two chambers, with community input need to develop a non-tourism economic development strategy. The strategy needs to take into account all of our strengths and weaknesses to allow us to find new opportunities and new streams of revenues.
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While it’s a tall order, it is my opinion that we need to give as much thought in growing revenues as we do protecting the environment. And we need a master strategy to do it. We need to develop an EIP for the economy just like we have for the environment. If we don’t all start thinking more about growing revenues, we risk losing all that is important to us. It’s not much I am asking, just show me the money.
Carl Ribaudo is president of Strategic Marketing Group in South Lake Tahoe. He may be reached at email@example.com
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