Games present opportunities

As the images from the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, fade, eyes shift toward Vancouver, B.C., where the next Winter Games will be held in 2010.

Even if you can't slap a hockey puck or turn a triple axel, the Vancouver games present Olympic opportunities for thousands of people and businesses in Washington.

Construction is already underway on venues for curling, speed skating, sliding, jumping and cross country skiing. But because of a general building boom in the province and the ongoing energy exploration in neighboring Alberta, organizers are scrambling to find enough skilled workers, contractors and suppliers to provide everything from plywood to portable toilets.

In all, the 2010 Games will need an estimated $2 billion in goods and services. While the lion's share will be provided by Canadian companies, the Olympic Games create considerable benefits for businesses "next door." For example, according to an economic analysis by the state of Idaho, the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake generated almost $100 million in economic activity in neighboring Idaho.

Washington is perfectly positioned to contribute to, and benefit from, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. In a recent online survey, almost 70 percent of the employers who responded already do business with Canada and the majority of them do so on a monthly basis. Of those who said they intended to expand their business interests into Canada, more than 86 percent plan to do so within the next year. Yet, of this same group, almost 60 percent have not focused on business opportunities related to the 2010 games.

They should.

The key for Washington business owners is to set their sights on being vendors or suppliers to the Games rather than pursuing Olympic sponsorships. Most small- and medium-size businesses can't afford to become Olympic sponsors, but they can provide services and materials to larger companies who are.

The 2010 Games offer opportunities for communities around Washington. For example, cities as far away as Spokane and the Tri-Cities have excellent indoor ice rinks where Olympic teams could conduct their final tune-ups before heading to Whistler or Vancouver.

And the Games provide a perfect opportunity for Washington businesses to show off their services and products to potential customers visiting from around the globe.

State officials can help

First, the governor and our congressional delegation need to continue their efforts to expedite cross-border travel. While security is a paramount concern in our post-Sept. 11 world, contractors and suppliers need to be able to get back and forth across the border without waiting hours in line each time. And during the Olympics, visitors from the Western U.S. traveling by car must be able to cross the border in a safe and timely manner.

Second, our state ought to spend some time studying ways to make it easier for the traveling public. Little things will make a difference. For example, a nice rest area with clean bathroom facilities at Blaine is needed. To drive home that point, a family recently told me a harrowing story about having to beg a Canadian border guard to let them take their three preschool-aged children back into Canada to use the guard's bathroom.

Third, state officials can also help Washington businesses identify the opportunities available in Vancouver and match them up with Canadian partners.

Finally, the state must recognize what improvements we must make to entice people heading to the Games to stop in our state.

The Washington State Department of Community Trade and Economic Development (CTED) is holding a series of meetings around the state beginning March 21 to bring together Washington business owners with trade officials and the governor's 2010 Olympics Task Force to talk about Olympic opportunities.

While CTED is working on a list of Canadian firms working on Olympic projects, more needs to be done to provide specific and timely information to interested business owners here in the our state. The opportunities for Washington businesses to be part of the 2010 Olympics are out there, but the clock is ticking. The time to get started is now.

Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.

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