Whatcom County companies prepare for 2010 games
While many athletes will pursue Olympic gold during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, many local businesses are hoping to cash in on some Olympic green.
Richard Johnson, owner of Ferndale-based Airporter Shuttle/Bellair Charters, is one of them. Johnson said his company is currently advertising bus trips to and from the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies in February 2010.
“It will be the best way to get there on a guaranteed trip,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the trips to the opening ceremonies are the only trips set for now, but he hopes the company will book many more in the future and be a vital part of the Olympic transportation equation.
“Our sense is that after the opening ceremonies, the best thing we can do is to get people to their Olympic transportation,” Johnson said. “If we can get people to the Vancouver SkyTrain or other Olympic transportation — once they get there, riders can get a ride to whatever event they want.”
While the 2010 Olympics will have an obvious effect on Bellair Charters, if you ask 10 people in Whatcom County whether or not the games will have an economic impact here, you will get 10 different answers.
Some think Bellingham and Whatcom County will be just a fuel-and-food stop, while others think Olympic activity will showcase the region and have economic benefits during and long after the games.
No matter what opportunities present themselves over the next year and a half, what businesses do in the meantime will make all the difference.
The sky is the limit
Brian Krieger, director of the 2010 Commerce Centre in Vancouver, B.C., said there are billions of dollars in opportunities to be had during the 2010 games.
“But it all depends on how engaged a business wants to be,” Krieger said. “There is an opportunity to build business partnerships while the world is interested.”
The 2010 Commerce Centre is an initiative of the British Columbia Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat and was created to inform, educate and connect businesses to the opportunities presented by the 2010 games for immediate and long-lasting economic benefit.
Krieger said the 2010 Commerce Centre has created a 2010 Business Network, which is basically a database of companies that are interested in doing 2010-related business. A company can build a free profile to present themselves to Olympic buyers or the company can search and browse 2010-related business opportunities such as relevant government contracts and licensing opportunities.
“Companies can post profiles on the database to find partners and opportunities, and Olympic buyers are using it to find qualified businesses to supply goods or services,” Krieger said.
One of those businesses found in the 2010 Business Network is Johnson’s Airporter Shuttle/Bellair Charters, which sees tremendous business potential and hopes his buses can get in on the action.
However, Johnson foresees a substantial bottleneck at the Canadian border that will hamper transportation to the games, so he has been partnering with local chambers of commerce to fix the problem.
“It’s strictly Operations 101 — if you have a bottleneck, you need to add more capacity,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s proposal to add capacity is to have a remote border station along I-5 in Whatcom County where large charter buses and the like can pull in to be inspected by border guards, who then seal the bus’s door for an expedited crossing into Canada.
“I think it’s a straightforward, good idea,” Johnson said. “But we have had no response from the border.”
Johnson said it would be to the border’s benefit to work toward a system that expedites a bus of 40 to 50 people instead of focusing on individual cars.
“They should let us be part of the solution,” Johnson said.
Who will be the consumer?
Johnson said that according to the American Bus Association, a tourist charter bus carrying 40 to 50 people brings an average of $12,000 to a community through hotels, meals and tourist attractions.
“If there are 10,000 people that want to make it to the games, the math is huge,” Johnson said.
Krieger said studies have shown that typical Olympic travelers are couples with a fair bit of income, but there is also a whole other category, which could benefit Whatcom County: Americans who want a piece of the Olympic experience but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
“Many folks visiting from the United States will be looking for a familiar and lower cost experience,” Krieger said.
The main tool of the 2010 Commerce Centre is its Web site, which is basically a giant resource for regional businesses to interact and educate themselves on how to capitalize on the opportunities and the attention that comes with the games. There is also advice and resources for how neighboring communities can capitalize on the nearby festivities.
According to the site, the state of Idaho developed a 10-point strategy during the Salt Lake City games to attract visitors, which included advertising Idaho as “the scenic route” and creating temporary games-related transportation infrastructure that allowed teams to set up “base camps” in Idaho.
Krieger said the center puts on several different workshops on accessing opportunities and identifying potential buyers, because if companies want to attract Olympic dollars, the bar will have to be raised.
“They are going to need to be the very best at what they do,” Krieger said.
Catalyst for business development
Henry Beeland, founder and CEO of Evergreen Team Concepts (ETC), knows how to help businesses be the best they can be.
ETC is a provider of business and personal training, business consulting and leadership seminars, and Beeland said as a result of the service ETC provides, local businesses began asking what they could do to improve their businesses in time for the Olympics.
“Naturally we were in a mindset to think of those things for our customers,” Beeland said. “Then we met with local officials and local organizations and the question from them was: the Olympics are coming in a couple of years, is there anything we can do to get businesses ready?”
To address the issue, ETC began the 2010 Service Initiative, which Beeland said is a vehicle that enables local businesses to take advantage of professional training services that individually they might not be able to afford.
“To do this at the level at which we do it, it would cost a business $1,000. That’s fine for some businesses, but the smaller businesses with three or four employees — they can’t afford that,” Beeland said.
So ETC worked on getting sponsors that would help subsidize these services for maximum benefit in the business community.
“Their main objective as sponsors is so the business community as a whole can participate,” Beeland said.
The service initiative offers several different seminars that cover topics from creating an exceptional service experience to developing positive personal energy in life.
Beeland said the seminars help businesses to better prepare themselves for the economic benefit and the influx of visitors from the 2010 Olympics and then create for themselves a lasting benefit to their organization as a result of participation.
However, the 2010 Service Initiative isn’t just about professional training but also about marketing efforts and networking.
Beeland said ETC provides workshops on image management and Internet marketing strategies to help companies improve their street and Web appeal before the games begin. The initiative also puts out a quarterly e-newsletter where companies can place an electronic ad.
“At the end of the day what the business finds out is that the real benefit wasn’t just the marketing or the networking, but that the team is so much more trained,” Beeland said.
Beeland said when they first began the 2010 Service Initiative, they said if they could get one or two sponsors and 100 participants, they would consider the program a success. Less than a year later, ETC has eight corporate sponsors and more than 180 members.
“If we keep up with our current numbers, we are going to be at 500 members by the end of next year,” Beeland said.
Looking back to look forward
Ken Oplinger, president and CEO of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, said the Olympics will bring a mixed bag of effects for the region. He said it will inject some money into our economy, but Olympic travelers will lead to traffic congestion and long border waits.
“It will be analogous to a summer weekend in August for us,” Oplinger said. “It will be bad, but we are used to it.”
Oplinger said he anticipates that Whatcom County will see something like what it saw during the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver.
“A lot of people who came here came back to visit, live and start businesses,” Oplinger said. “It’s a great way for people to get introduced to the area.”
Beeland said he wasn’t here for the Expo but has heard two distinct things about it: that it was great, it highlighted the area and brought a lot of customer traffic, or that it didn’t do anything for business.
“What that’s telling me is that one person took advantage of it and the other did not,” Beeland said. “What we do with our time in the meantime makes a difference.”
Check it out
Who: Brian Krieger, director of the 2010 Commerce Centre will be the keynote speaker at the eighth annual WWU Bellingham Business Forum.
When: Nov. 5, doors open at 11 a.m., lunch at noon, keynote at 12:45 p.m.
Where: Hotel Bellwether Ballroom
How much: Tickets are $50