Lake Tahoe Prosperity Plan: Economists say health and wellness is one leg | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe Prosperity Plan: Economists say health and wellness is one leg

Matthew Renda
Sierra Sun

AP File Photo Olympic gold and silver medalist Julia Mancuso, of Olympic Valley, is among many world-class athletes who can groom their winter sports careers in the regionand#8217;s high-altitude environment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series about the three clusters being examined by the Lake Tahoe Prosperity Plan. Look for a story about geotourism in next Wednesday’s print edition.

LAKE TAHOE and#8212; Economists say Tahoe can market itself as a premier health and wellness destination for patrons of the high-end spa market, those looking to rehabilitate from injuries or illness or world-class athletes wanting a high-altitude training ground.

Applied Development Economics, a Sacramento-based economic development firm in charge of spearheading the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan, identified health and wellness as one of three sectors and#8212; the others being geotourism and green building and#8212; capable of igniting Tahoe’s flailing economy.

Jason Collin of Barton Home Health said Tahoe has the opportunity to brand itself as a health-oriented destination for individuals on both sides of the wellness spectrum.

and#8220;Tahoe is an ideal place to rest and recover,and#8221; he said during a presentation draft presentation of the prosperity plan last week.

Collin said Tahoe can expand its medical facilities while introducing fields of medical specialization such as orthopedics, spine medicine and oncology, and it should focus on augmenting current Internet-based health operations, utilizing telemedicine technologies to increase traffic and awareness of medical facilities, said Collin.

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Furthermore, once Tahoe is established as a region known for providing quality medical care, Collin said centers that focus on facilitating skills for a career in the medical field will begin to crop up.

On the other hand, Tahoe can market itself as a destination for athletes looking for an ideal place to prepare and train and#8212; whether it be winter athletes who utilize the ski/snowboard facilities, or summer athletes such as marathon runners who use the altitude to refine their cardiovascular prowess, Collin said.

and#8220;Tahoe is higher in altitude than Boulder, Colo., which always attracts marathon runners and bikers for training,and#8221; Collin said. and#8220;There’s no reason Tahoe can’t compete with other places as a destination for premiere athletes.and#8221;

Having famous athletes reside and train here can give a community additional cache and cause others interested in a given sport to congregate to Tahoe, Collin said.

Collin said a concerted effort to bring high profile athletic events and#8212; such as the Amgen Tour of California bike race and#8212; can expose the beauty and allure of the Lake Tahoe Basin to a world-wide audience.

Tahoe’s shift from gaming-centric hospitality toward a more diversified and wellness-oriented model is exemplified by the Boulder Bay project and#8212; which is currently awaiting TRPA approval.

Boulder Bay is essentially a reconfiguration of the Tahoe Biltmore in Crystal Bay, taking what was once a typical hotel and casino and transforming into a wellness destination with a 10,000-square-foot spa.

Heather Bacon, president of Boulder Bay, said in a previous report that Boulder Bay will facilitate longer stays from visitors, thus contributing more to the local economy as a result.

and#8220;I think the nature of Boulder Bay as a health and wellness center means that people won’t just stop by to gamble for a little bit and move on,and#8221; said Bacon.

Gaming is a primary attraction that has been in decline for 20 years, according to Bill Eddington, director of the Institute for Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada.

and#8220;By all standard measure, gaming in Lake Tahoe has declined by more than half since 1990,and#8221; Eddington said. and#8220;Local business owners … have to realize that revenue is not coming back, even if the national economy recovers.and#8221;

Despite the prevalence of optimism at Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan meetings this year, organizers and participants realize limitations to Tahoe achieving optimal economic output exist.

Specific to health and wellness, the presence of blight and deteriorating infrastructure in communities around the lake contradict the message of health and well-being.

and#8220;You can’t say to a patient, and#8216;we can rehabilitate you just like we are going to rehabilitate this blight,’and#8221; Collin said.

Fragmented broadband access throughout the basin curtails efforts to increase telemedicine and e-Health efforts, he said.

Furthermore, population loss and#8212; the basin has witnessed an exodus of 9,500 residents from 2000 to 2008, according to ADE statistics and#8212; and subsequent brain drain have eroded the pool of talent that has necessary qualifications to work in the medical field.