From Site Selection magazine, November 2008

The media center for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games
in Vancouver, B.C., sets the tone for a region that hopes
to see its economy set sail when the Games are over.
Ripple from the Rings
Host cities chase economic development
momentum from the Olympic Games.

ports tourism is big business, as any city involved in building a new stadium has experienced. But it doesn't get any bigger than the quadrennial Olympic Games.
      Among the motivations often cited by regions with Olympian aspirations is the business development spin-off that's supposed to accompany and follow the Games. Given the prodigious price tags associated with hosting ($15 billion in Athens,
$42 billion in Beijing), there had better be something to show for it.
      In its applicant file with the IOC, Chicago 2016 said its bid had five key components. The one that came after global harmony was to
A 2016 Chicago Olympiad could make
this city a better place
to live, work, play
and visit for a long, long time.
"transform Chicago's urban landscape."
      Jonathan Sangster, senior managing director with CBRE Consulting in Atlanta, has had a front-row seat for his town's urban transformation. He spent nearly 17 years in leadership roles with energy giant The Southern Co., but his biggest challenge may have come when that firm lent him to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for two and a half years. His assignment included planning and implementing the training process for a 55,000-person volunteer work force for the 1996 Olympic Games. Today, he leads a team focused on real estate solutions for multinational corporate clients. He says any company thinking about locating to a city that has hosted the Olympics probably has infrastructure, accessibility and quality of life foremost in its sights.
      "That was one of the big things coming out of Atlanta," he says. "It really worked to put Atlanta on the international map – the enhancements to the airport, the increases in flights to other parts of the world. From what I've heard over the years, a lot of international folks didn't know a whole lot about Atlanta until the Games."
Sydney Olympic Park
Among the many positives to hit the Sydney Olympic Park area, pictured above, has been the construction of new buildings by Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which is consolidating some 1,300 employees to the new location (below). By the sixth anniversary of the 2000 Olympiad, the park had welcomed $100 million in land sales and 700 hotel rooms. "By year's end the value of private-sector commitments to new property development projects had exceeded [AU]$1.1 billion," said the Sydney Olympic Park Authority's 2007 annual report, with a further $140 million of new development opportunities under negotiation."
Sydney Olympic Park
Photos by Bob Peters
copyright Sydney Olympic Park Authority

      Sangster says Atlanta clearly benefited from 1995 to 2000, leading the nation in job growth at more than 100,000 new jobs a year. The Atlanta MSA has rebounded from the downturn of 2001 to continue as one of the fastest growing areas in the nation, even as it faces transportation infrastructure and commuting issues that seem to have outrun some of that post-Olympics momentum.

Entering the Limelight
      The Games-to-growth spinoff strategy is nowhere more apparent than at the British Columbia 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat, established by the province's Ministry of Finance to "provide the strategic leadership, coordination and oversight to ensure the Province meets its financial infrastructure and service commitments." Its secondary goal is to ensure "the sustainable economic, cultural, sport and social opportunities associated with hosting the 2010 Winter Games are identified early and fully realized. It is a key goal that these opportunities evolve into enduring legacies for communities and businesses throughout British Columbia."
      As such, the stories the Secretariat is promoting range from the currently rapid growth of B.C.'s Prince Rupert container port to the wine tourism of the Okanagan Valley. Colin Hansen, B.C. Minister of Finance and Minister responsible for the Winter Olympic Games of 2010, says it goes well beyond that. It helps, he says, that Vancouver already had a strong, positive brand as a cosmopolitan, globally aware city, stemming in part from the city's hosting of the 1986 World's Fair.
      "One spinoff of the Olympic Games is that the Vancouver brand recognition is certainly rising quickly," he says. "We anticipate that, post-2010, that will take a dramatic increase."
      Capitalizing on the Games is one thing. What about long-term corporate interest?
      "Initially, as it pertains to the Olympics, it is flowing from the major international corporate sponsors," says Hansen. "There are several companies looking to establish a permanent presence in Vancouver, though they haven't announced that yet. One big international sponsor is looking at establishing a major office tower in Vancouver that would bear their corporate name."
      That unnamed giant will have company in the form of Microsoft's new software development center in the metro area, which just held its formal opening in the City of Richmond. The company anticipates having up to 1,000 employees at the center, including an influx of foreign talent that is better able to work in Canada than in the U.S., thanks to more flexible immigration and visa regulations. Hansen says his province's regulations have eased up a bit as well, part of the government's bid to diversify the economy and open up to international markets when the administration first took shape seven years ago.
      "Go back just 10 years ago, and B.C. had a reputation as a high-tax, high-cost jurisdiction in which to do business," he says. "We've eliminated 40 percent of unnecessary regulations, and turned that [reputation] around 180 degrees. The other thing we've done is significantly reduce our corporate tax and personal income tax rates. By 2011, we'll have the lowest corporate tax rates of any jurisdiction in the G8 countries. It's not just a case of running the Olympics flag up the pole and saying, 'Look at us.' "
      Among the infrastructure improvements visitors will see is the new rapid transit system connecting downtown to the airport, and a new highway system connecting Vancouver to Whistler.
      That said, there is some grumbling. Some see the focus on the rings pulling focus away from B.C.'s traditional industries. A manager for one company told this reporter that the Olympics push, combined with the Alberta energy juggernaut, has made it hard to come by timely construction resources and manpower.
      Hansen puts it all in context, pointing to the province's Major Projects Inventory, which attempts to track investment in all public and private construction projects of a certain size.
      "If you go back to 2001, we had $46 billion worth of projects," he says. "In the latest inventory, which just came out, it's up to $169 billion." The Olympics construction investment amounts to $580 million, he says, a small fraction of the total construction in the province, in part because the hosts are making use of existing facilities wherever possible.
      "Yes, we have been facing labor shortages in the construction sector," Hansen says. But he points out that Olympics venue construction should be completed around November.
      "It will be the first time in Olympic history that all will be finished that far ahead of the opening ceremonies," he says. "It's a great testament to the construction industry – in spite of the pressures and the labor shortages, they're delivering projects on time and on budget."
      Thus may the stage be set for many more opening ceremonies of the corporate variety, as the Secretariat seeks to prove Premier Gordon Campbell's assertion that the Games are "not a landing pad, but a launching pad." Hansen shares one direction in particular he'd like to see the region pursue.
      "In a ranking of international financial centers, Vancouver is today ranked No. 32," he says. "We believe when you look at the corporate environment and the cost of doing business, when you look at the makeup of our population with over 20 percent Asia-Pacific ancestry and look at our geographic proximity as the closest North American city to emerging markets in East Asia, we have all the ingredients to become a much more significant player as a center for international commerce.
      "When we host the Olympic Games," he says, "that will be one of the messages we will be conveying to the world."

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