Prosperity Plan focuses on health, environmental and tourism industries in next phase |

Prosperity Plan focuses on health, environmental and tourism industries in next phase

Matt Welch

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – For Michael Ward, the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan is a speed train toward the promised land. And at this stage, the key is to get more people on board.

“I think we’re on the right track. We’re adding cars to the train and we’re adding riders,” said Ward, the project manager. “Out of that ridership, I think we’re going to get enough momentum to get things done.”

The plan – a basin-wide effort to create a cohesive economic development plan to strengthen the area – held three meetings this week on the South Shore focusing on the three “economic clusters,” or broad, related business categories, that its economic specialists had determined as most important to the area. At the meetings, development economists from Applied Development Economics shared information about clusters and the basin’s economic trends and then opened up discussion to figuring out issues and opportunities for action in each cluster. Ward said he was pleased with the turnout and input at the sessions.

“I thought the participants were serious and enthusiastic without being Pollyanna-istic. Everyone was able to acknowledge the obvious constraints” Ward said. “I saw a lot of opportunity-focused conversations.”

The health and wellness cluster meeting drew 15 participants, many from Barton Memorial Hospital but also representatives from South Tahoe Cross Fit and Lake Tahoe Community College. Participants noted the lack of world class training facilities for athletes and a desire to make Tahoe a destination health area. The development of an orthopedics destination on the South Shore and a cancer treatment resort on the North Shore were both mentioned as developmental possibilities. Many individuals expressed an interest in having more short-term health-related educational programs in the basin, perhaps at one of the colleges or as part of Barton’s in-house university.

Mary Bittner, vice president of nursing at Barton, said the meeting was an interesting and important discussion of the future of health in Tahoe. Better alignment between efforts, she said, would be helpful in the effort, too.

“We definitely need to reinvent ourselves as a community,” she said.

The meeting for the tourism cluster had more than 30 people in attendance Thursday morning. Issues included the lack of available credit for businesses in the Basin, problems with making big changes because of TRPA’s regulations and an overdeveloped lodging industry, particularly on the South Shore. Several participants expressed a desire to find predictability in the TRPA review process, so that entrepreneurs – and the banks supporting them – would have a better idea of a project’s end result.

Carl Ribaudo of the Strategic Marketing Group said the biggest challenge of tourism industries on the lake is the fight regarding the environmental marketing of the lake. Some market it as an eco-friendly, beautiful paradise, he said, but also “you have environmental groups telling everybody that the quality of the lake is going to hell in a handbasket.”

“I think there’s a conflict in those messages,” Ribaudo said.

David Hansen, Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe’s director of engineering, opened the session on green business Thursday afternoon by detailing the environmental efforts the hotel has made in the past few years. The discussion then segued into figuring out ways to turn scientific research in the “laboratory of Tahoe” into business developments.

Zach Hymanson, executive director of the Tahoe Science Consortium, suggested an alpine climate and sustainability science and technology innovation center, which could examine a rapidly growing field and have business applications.

“I can just see there’s this huge need for that kind of research,” Hymanson said. “And it’s consistent with what we have in Tahoe.”

After identifying some of the areas of focus this week, the plan’s organizers will move to identify a number of projects as potential items for the action plan, said Trish Kelly of ADE. May meetings on the North Shore will help identify “champions” for each of the projects, and then the action plan will be presented to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in June and fully released in the fall.

“B” Gorman, executive director of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased with the participation and hopes to see more in future meetings.

“I just feel very positive about the dialogue I heard today,” Gorman said.

Ward said the cluster process is meant to be analytical and to help organize a community, both things he saw as happening here. While a project of this scale can require a suspension of disbelief, Ward said Thursday that the Prosperity Plan was adding people to its train of progress.

“We’re inviting people to take that journey,” he said. “I think we picked up more riders today.”

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