There is a timeworn basketball strategy that is as simple to understand as it is hard to execute:
Play to your strengths, cover your weaknesses.
Reduced to that formula, basketball is easy to grasp, except when it’s not.
We’ve been thinking about that during the past few weeks, and not just because of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Rather, we’ve been thinking about it in terms of Mammoth, and Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez’s push for economic development.
By now everyone knows about the town’s job opening for an economic development director, even though no one can pinpoint exactly what this person would create.
But what he or she would face, right away, is a town that has obvious strengths to play to, and obvious weaknesses to cover.
First, the strengths:
A recognizable name and place. Nobody has to go out and “sell” the Mammoth name. Practically everyone in California, and most of the rest of the United States, has a positive association with the name, whether they’ve been here or not. The summer visitors know it for one thing; the winter visitors know it for another.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. If it’s not the best resort ski hill in the country, it’s right there with any of them.
Yosemite National Park. Arguably the most iconic of the country’s vast system of national parks.
Los Angeles. Among the most populous, most innovative, most forward thinking clusters of creativity on the planet.
Environment. A clean, environmentally friendly town, unspoiled by the human detritus of billboards, garbage, noise, pollution, etc.
High-speed Internet bandwidth. Coming this summer, the implications of the Digital 395 project mean Mammoth, long cut off from high-speed networks, can join the 21st Century at last.
Land. Mammoth has acres of undeveloped land at the airport.
Second, the weaknesses:
Remote location. Mammoth is miles from everywhere and hard to get to, both in winter and in summer, especially by the population- and creativity-rich San Francisco Bay Area.
Economic legacy. What there is of it, it is dismal. Saddled with a long-term debt as a result of the near-catastrophic Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition legal settlement, the town itself has very little wiggle-room in terms of finances, and enjoys no confidence by many of its citizens.
Factory town. Mammoth exists because of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Were it to go away, Mammoth would go away. It is utterly dependent on a private enterprise, and has no tangible cooperative economic history to go with it.
A severe inferiority complex, created by the shadow of the Lake Tahoe ski resorts just up the highway to the North, and by the Colorado and Utah ski resorts that are easily accessible by L.A. and Bay Area skiers via robust air service.
Global warming. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, it is a legitimate question as to whether there is a future in Mammoth’s future.
We have no doubt there are other factors that will form the main palette with which a new economic development director will work.
But given Mammoth’s strengths, and stacking them alongside the town’s weaknesses, we’d be ready to take this town into the future any old time.