Vancouver games now take center stage

   The 2006 Winter Olympics are now history. The medals have been awarded, athletes have returned home and the torch has been passed to Vancouver, B.C. Which means the world spotlight now turns to our neighbors to the North as 2010 fast approaches.
   For the U.S. region closest to these Olympics, the games present a number of opportunities and challenges for Whatcom County. First, a little background.
   The Olympics will occur Feb. 5-21 in Vancouver and Whistler, followed by the Paralympics, March 5-14, all at Whistler.
   The numbers associated with these events are astounding:
   There will be up to 6,000 athletes and officials from 80 countries.
   More than 1.5 million tickets will be sold.
   Around 25,000 volunteers will assist with staging the games.
   Capital costs will exceed $1.0 billion U.S. to build the facilities that host the games and athletes. A similar amount (or more) will be spent on administration, security and events like the opening and closing ceremonies.
   About 10,000 media will converge on the games to cover sport, culture and the region. 
   The organizing committee will utilize 16,000 lodging rooms in the Vancouver region and 3,500 rooms in the Whistler area. 
   Now on to the opportunities.
   From a business development standpoint, there are a number of opportunities right now. 
   According to the B.C. Ministry of Economic Development, around 10,000 contracts for a variety of projects will be awarded through 2010.
   With its healthy economy, labor shortages in a variety of sectors appear to be a real issue for British Columbia, which could bode well for U.S. businesses.
   Likewise, higher prices for materials and manufactured goods could make U.S goods more attractive, especially with the current strength of Canadian currency.
   Contrary to popular belief, U.S. companies are allowed to bid on Olympic-related projects.  The B.C. Ministry of Economic Development has set up an online site that posts various 2010-related bids and business opportunities. You can sign up to receive e-mails about future bid opportunities, and there are resources that guide you through the bid process, but you need to closely monitor this Web site and the various bids advertised; many listings had a one-to-two week closing period from the date they were posted. 
   To learn more, visit www.2010commercecentre.com.
   Two years ago, the Whatcom Council of Governments organized a technical site visit to the 2002 Winter Olympic venues in and around Salt Lake City.
   From that trip, I learned that one of the greatest benefits of the games is the media exposure a region receives, resulting in pre-and post-Olympic visits. With more than 10,000 media attending, the Olympics will do much to elevate the Pacific Northwest as a destination.
   Other opportunities include travelers who will stop and visit our community, with Mt. Baker Ski Area receiving additional skiers and snowboarders (and possibly media exposure because of its reputation).
   With any major world event, there are challenges. The security requirements and infrastructure at the U.S. Canadian border are a concern to a number of us.
   What new requirements that may be required or security threats that exist are hard to forecast, but certainly they are a concern and need to be addressed.
   Likewise, the construction of a new border facility at the Peace Arch in Blaine is dragging out and appears behind schedule. Federal officials have assured us that the project will be completed in time, but if not, they need to be ready with contingency plans so travel flows smoothly.
   To address these and evolving challenges and opportunities, the Tourism Bureau organized a local 2010 committee in 2003. It is actively involved with the Governor’s 2010 Task Force. That task force is looking at a number of opportunities and issues.
   The Pacific Northwest Economic Region organization is also developing various projects, including a collaborative online directory for training venues in the region for pre-Olympic training with state and provincial partners.
   This directory should be interactive and include detailed information from each community on hosting international teams. 
   Another potential project is a Pacific Northwest Information Center at the game venues to promote the region.
   So there’s a brief report on where some of the plans (and dreams!) stand at this time. I will keep you posted on new opportunities.
   Let the games begin!

John Cooper is the President and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom Tourism.

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