Tahoe Chamber Corner: Make South Lake America’s greatest mountain community
You have all seen it. Big bold letters on the covers of Outside, Sunset, National Geographic Adventure and Powder magazines. The annual “Best Town(s)” edition. It immediately captures my attention, and I am always curious about two things.
First, do the descriptions match my travel experiences? Second, how does our community stack up? The other thing that always catches my attention is how infrequently you see South Lake Tahoe on these lists. Given the unique natural beauty of our area, the unlimited year-round recreational opportunities, the large numbers of annual visitors and amount of world-class athletes who call South Lake Tahoe home, you would think it would be a no-brainer to be on these lists. Unfortunately, the reality is we’re often nowhere to be found.
We should all be asking ourselves why. We’ve had a diverse range of investments over recent years, including Lakeview Commons, South Tahoe High School, Edgewood Tahoe Lodge, Bijou Bike Park, The Crossing at Tahoe Valley, just to name a few. Our business community and nonprofits have worked on numerous initiatives aimed at strengthening our economy and building our community.
Our resume is getting stronger and more compelling. However, as many of you are already thinking, there are likely many factors that play into our absence from these top tier lists.
After pondering this question for quite some time, there are at least two critical factors that jump out to me. First, South Lake is missing a clear community-based vision we can all rally around. Yes, numerous local governments, regulatory agencies and organizations have vision statements, but they all tend to be limited in geographic focus or relate only to a portion of our community. Second, too many of our successful examples of progress happen in silos. Not surprisingly, the latter is strongly linked to the former.
So, what do we do? An organically defined vision along with an aspirational goal and some branding we can all feel good about would be a great start. You may be asking yourself “what does that look like?” For me, it looks like this:
The vision: “North America’s greatest destination mountain community to live, work, recreate, visit and invest.”
Our goal: To have such a strong brand, diverse community, and sense of place that South Lake is consistently on those “best town” lists.
Even better, a group of my friends, neighbors and colleagues find themselves on the cover of Outside or Sunset within five years. And that brand we are selling? Thanks to Chris McNamara this is easy, “the Outdoor Capital of the World.” The brand sums up the outdoor and mountain culture so important to our community, and the goal gives us motivation every day to make our community better. The vision provides the foundation for everything we do moving forward.
Now we have some work to do to build the foundation and achieve the five components of the vision. What am I talking about?
Live: Create housing options for a diverse workforce and foster neighborhoods which create that incredible sense of place that draws and sustains families, young professionals, retirees and adventurers.
Work: Develop a depth of employment opportunities that support a growing and vibrant economy. Strengthen the linkages between our K-12 school districts, Lake Tahoe Community College, and our local businesses community, so we train the right workforce and offer our graduates local employment opportunities. We also need to create and deliver the professional infrastructure necessary to sustain a skilled and educated workforce (think healthy and vibrant professional organizations and more TEDx style events).
Visit: Foster a welcoming and sharing culture where our residents and visitors can enjoy the natural and built environment together. Emphasize the importance of traditional and digital wayfinding and the benefit it can provide to residents and visitors (both domestic and international).
Recreate: Improve the linkages between our recreational assets and those who want to use them. Improving wayfinding and supporting the growth of gear, adventure and the recreation businesses necessary to support a recreation-based economy.
Invest: Create a climate that encourages investment from our existing businesses while attracting new capital from those who share our community’s vision or have a likeminded mountain ethic. Emphasize the importance of environmental redevelopment and the critical role it will play in protecting Lake Tahoe.
So, the challenge I recently presented to the Tahoe Chamber Board of Directors and the current Leadership Lake Tahoe class is now presented to you. As a community, and that includes every resident, business, property owner, organization and agency on the South Shore, what can you do to make South Lake Tahoe North America’s greatest mountain community to live, work, recreate, visit and invest?
Jason Drew is the chair of the Tahoe Chamber Board of Directors.