Panel: Lake Tahoe economy must adjust |

Panel: Lake Tahoe economy must adjust

Jack Barnwell

A changing workforce, generational changes and a morphing economy shaped a healthy conversation during a panel discussion by local leaders last Wednesday.

The panel, coordinated by the Tahoe Regional Young Professionals (TRYP), included Tahoe Chamber President/CEO B Gorman, South Lake Tahoe City Attorney Tom Watson, Jamie Orr from Tahoe Mountain Lab and real estate specialist Scott Fair.

All agreed the Tahoe area, especially the South Shore, has been hard hit and must adapt to a changing economy.

Fair noted development has been a core piece of the region’s economy. He said the discussion also needs to change to address how development can be spurred. Those include the hard costs such as property costs and permits.

“The problem is we have made the costs so high that it won’t pencil out coming in,” Fair said. He said If the South Shore and the city want to foster small business growth, they needs to figure out how to drive down hard costs.

He said an example is if the area wants to be a more walkable, bikeable, and livable mountain town that developers and eventually a workforce want to live, it has to decide what it wants to look like.

“You have to take a look macro-economics to diversify its economy to be less reliant on a tourism-based economy,” Orr said. She pointed out that tourism-based economy can have negative implications because it’s considered a secondary market.

“South Lake Tahoe needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up,” Orr said. “We’re still a young city, so what direction do we want to take?”

She cited a study that revealed people and companies looked more at happiness rather than basic services. Orr said happiness is especially important because the nation’s workforce has changed and people weren’t necessarily tied to one place.

“It’s a spiky world because people can choose where they want to live,” Orr said. “We need to really focus on those other things, because those talents are going to provide the jobs that will drive people to come work here.”

Gorman agreed, but stressed potential hardships are in the way.

“The barriers we’ve built for entry are so high. ” While regulations were put into effect for good reasons, it’s also hindered smart development, Gorman added.

She said companies such as Tesla are setting up shop in cities like Reno, posing a threat to a future Tahoe workforce. Gorman said conservative estimates project at least 51,000 new jobs in the Reno area, both from direct jobs and secondary industries, such as housing.

Gorman added competitive salaries and quality of life need to be addressed.

Watson said he moved his family here because he enjoyed the mountains, not because he lived in a tourism destination. He said, instead of chasing an industry or trend, the area should be on the front of the edge and that something needs to be done to draw in people and encourage smart growth and change.

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