Updated: There’s optimism about the basin’s economy despite current downturn | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Updated: There’s optimism about the basin’s economy despite current downturn

Jeff Munson

As the nation undergoes a bumpy ride in the economy – fueled by high gas prices, a home-mortgage crisis and inflation – there are glimmers of better news, especially in Nevada, the Sierra and Lake Tahoe. Nevada continues to be the fastest-growing economy in the United States, sparked by commercial development, according to Bill Anderson, chief economist for Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

With construction planned or under way in Stateline, Reno-Sparks and Las Vegas, a boom in resort construction will fuel a recovery in job growth for Nevada, Anderson said in a report to the state last month. With unemployment now hovering at 5.5 percent, Anderson projects job growth to be back at 5 percent annually within two years. That is a solid recovery from the 1.4 percent increase in jobs for 2007, the slowest growth since 2002.

He said an improvement in California’s economy would help Northern Nevada. There are gains to be made in education, health services, transportation, trade and utilities that will fuel job growth, though the construction industry will continue to lose jobs until mid-2009, when, Anderson believes, that sector of the economy also will turn around.

Closer to home, Lake Tahoe has the potential to influence the continuing emerging technology fields. Software and Internet-related businesses are among the largest “industries” in the basin, according to Lake Tahoe chamber of commerce officials, yet until recently there has been no effort to get executives, leaders and entrepreneurs together.

In February, though, the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Nevada Development Association held an information technology conference at Lake Tahoe.

“Figures vary, but conservative figures estimate that the number of telecommuters is growing by approximately 15 percent each year,” said chamber President and CEO Betty “B” Gorman. “Thus the chamber feels it is crucial to recognize this trend and commence the process of ensuring that community, policy and infrastructure support are here to encourage location-neutral individuals and businesses to consider the Tahoe Basin the perfect home.”

The Lake Tahoe Basin’s greatest assets are its pristine clear air, scenery and the recreational and entertainment options that exist here, Gorman said. Assuming these resources are protected and Tahoe is continuously promoted, “we are reasonably certain to continue to see tourism as an important piece of our local economy,” she said. “These very same features are also what draw entrepreneurs and employees to our area.”

The fact that Tahoe is within a relatively short travel distance for millions of people helps makes the region a worthwhile place to visit, even in downward economic times, she said.

Gorman recommends Tahoe business owners plan for locals, near-locals and Europeans:

“The Euro is at an all-time high against the U.S. dollar, and as such Europeans are taking advantage of this opportunity and traveling to the U.S. in record numbers,” Gorman said.

She urges local businesses, such as gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and lodging companies, to consider their response to these visitors.

“Businesses should be looking at their Web sites and adding translation links and currency-converter links, as well as print materials here at home that could be available in several other languages,” Gorman advised. “Anyone who has been skiing on our mountains or wandering the village this winter has already experienced this phenomenon, and we can expect it to grow stronger this summer and through next winter.”

By “near-locals,” Gorman refers to visitors from areas close enough to visit for shorter stays. A domestic traveler tends to book four days out and may come back again to the same location, experts say.

“Here is a true opportunity for our community,” Gorman explained. “We must look for ways to ensure that each and every visitor has a pleasant and memorable experience while visiting our community. It is a proven fact that consumers make purchasing decisions based on an emotional reaction and likewise recommend locations and businesses based on that same experience.”

For locals, Gorman said she is hopeful increased fuel costs will drive basin residents to think before they drive.

“Through this introspection, they will discover that instead of burning gallons of gas and hours of time, they could better utilize that time and money by staying at home. By doing so, they are protecting our most valuable asset, the environment, and saving gas, which equals saving money. Then there is the added benefit of supporting local businesses.”

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