Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010
By Elaine Goodman, TAHOE BUSINESS MONITOR
With its magical blue water and fresh mountain air, Lake Tahoe seems like an ideal destination for those wanting to improve their health.
And the concept of Tahoe as a wellness destination has been gaining traction through an economic planning process under way this year.
Participants in the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan have been taking a closer look at health and wellness as an economic “cluster” worth further developing.
The vision includes a full range of health and wellness services for tourists and residents. Tahoe could be a place where visitors come for elective surgery such as cosmetic procedures.
Others might visit to take advantage of top-notch sports medicine and orthopedic care, from surgery to rehabilitation.
Athletes would come to Tahoe to train and participate in events.
And Tahoe schools could partner with regional facilities to train the health care workers needed to provide these services.
“When people think of Tahoe, they think of its natural beauty,” said Monica Sciuto, spokeswoman for Barton Health. “And they think of healing - being up in the mountains and the fresh air.”
The benefits to developing Lake Tahoe as a health and wellness destination are several.
Doing so would boost business at Tahoe’s existing medical facilities, such as Barton Health’s hospital and clinics, which have seen a drop in business as the area’s population has declined. Smaller wellness-oriented businesses, such as massage therapists, personal trainers and yoga studios, would also likely see business increase.
The plan would create quality jobs — those that pay a living wage and offer a career path. This in turn might help reverse Tahoe’s population decline.
Some pieces already in place
Rather than being a distant dream, the health and wellness economic cluster at Lake Tahoe already has several pieces in place or under development.
Barton Health recently unveiled its new Tahoe Center for Orthopedics, whose goal is to make the most of Barton’s already substantial orthopedic medicine resources.
The center won’t be a new building, but rather a strategy for providing a more seamless experience for orthopedic patients, from pre-surgery consultations through post-surgery rehabilitation, Sciuto said.
The center is bringing together physicians from various departments, and will be overseen by Dr. Michael Lewis, M.D., MBA, recently hired as the center’s director. Barton is also working with consultant Accelero Partners in developing the center, a process that will take one to three years.
Barton is also exploring the idea of a wellness center.
On the North Shore, the proposed Boulder Bay Resort in Crystal Bay includes a significant wellness component. The 300-room hotel complex would include a 20,000-square-foot wellness center and a 10,000-square-foot fitness center. Developers are working with Tahoe Forest Health and UC Davis on programming for the wellness center, which might include relaxation and nutritional components.
Boulder Bay developers had the idea for the wellness center before the Prosperity Plan came along.
“It was a nice affirmation for us,” Boulder Bay project manager Brian Helm said of the plan’s health and wellness cluster.
As for the training component called for during Prosperity Plan discussions, South Tahoe High School is planning to build a $4.4 million sports medicine academy in the next few years. The academy, which has received $2.2 million in state grant funding, will offer training for students to become athletic fitness trainers or physical therapists.
Those large-scale components in the health and wellness arena are in addition to Tahoe’s existing array of spas, health clubs and athletic events.
Wellness is one of three clusters
Health and wellness is one of three economic clusters being developed through the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan. The other clusters are tourism and visitor services, and green business and environmental innovation.
The Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan is a project of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and local government.
The Prosperity Plan is being developed with a $70,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, along with $65,000 in matching funds from local government.
In a series of community meetings this year, participants identified clusters that had economic promise for the basin. It quickly became apparent that the clusters are inter-connected, said Trish Kelly with Applied Development Economics, a consultant hired to help with the plan.
And the three clusters also face some of the same hurdles, Kelly said. In particular, areas of blight and deficiencies in the region’s broadband system are problems.
The goal of the prosperity plan process is to devise an action plan “for a more resilient economy that enhances environmental quality, improves the standard of living, grows local businesses and supports entrepreneurs,” according to an April presentation.
Having a plan should make it easier to obtain funding for economic development at the lake.
Additional Prosperity Plan meetings are scheduled for July 15 on the north and south shores.
The draft plan is then expected to go to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board for review in August. The goal is to have a final plan in place by September.
For more information, contact Trish Kelly with Applied Development Economics at (916) 448-2456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.