The BC Winter Olympics will soon be over. Then what?

February 8, 2010

By Dr. Roslyn Kunin
BC Business Columnist
Troy Media

Dr. Roslyn Kunin
Dr. Roslyn Kunin

VANCOUVER, BC, Feb. 8, 2010/ Troy Media/ — The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver are about to start. The torches are lit, the sites are being dressed with imported snow, athletes from around the world are warming up by jogging around Vancouver’s 30 km of scenic coastal paths and parties and celebrations of every type are commencing. The Games themselves will give world class athletes the chance to display what 10,000 hours or more of practice can enable already talented human beings to achieve.

In March, we will also have an opportunity to be amazed by the Paralympics, during which talent and even more determination are displayed by people who face challenges in living even an ordinary life, let alone becoming and competing as world class athletes.

And then, the 2010 Winter Olympics will be over. After more than 10 years of planning, preparing and then presenting, the Games will be done. The medals will be polished and put away. The athletes and the visitors will go home. The ‘Olympic refugees’ who disappeared from the city during the games will return. Road closures and security restrictions will be lifted and the lions on the Lions Gate Bridge will remove their red Olympic mittens. Just as the Games themselves took preparation and planning, now is the time to start looking forward and seeing what BC can do in a post-Game world.

Doomsayers wrong

First, let us be very clear that, in spite of many doomsayers’ predictions, the BC economy is not going to tank when the Olympic flame is extinguished. The non-Olympic related fundamentals of the economy are already stronger than many expected at this stage of the business cycle.

Jobs are increasing. The BC unemployment rate is falling and is still lower than the national rate. Housing starts are rising dramatically. Major projects under construction in the third quarter of 2009 did go down to $63 billion, from $66 billion in the second quarter; but the projected capital value of proposed new projects rose from $103 billion to $107 billion. World demand for BC’s resources is holding steady or rising, so the BC economy is not going to be falling out of bed. By taking advantage of lessons learned from the Olympics, British Columbia can do even better.

Let’s start with the fun stuff like the zip line over downtown Vancouver (zip lines are designed to allow individuals to be propelled by gravity from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable) and the nightly light show that individuals can go on line to program themselves.

These are unique attractions that should be maintained, if not all year round, at least during the summer tourist season. Tourism will be boosted by Vancouver’s exposure during the games and the new, larger convention centre, but it still will be challenged by a high Canadian dollar and a thicker US border. We need to offer more than just the wonder of flowers blooming outdoors in February in Canada.

Whistler will benefit by the exposure as well, (especially when viewers see that it did, indeed, have snow) and by the improved and spectacular Sea to Sky highway. It remains to be seen how much benefit will spread to other BC communities.

Turning from the fun stuff to the green stuff, the Games provided considerable encouragement for those in Metro Vancouver to move away from their cars to public transit to get around. The Games also led to the construction of the Canada Line between downtown, the airport and the suburb of Richmond. As soon as it opened, the Canada Line was at 80 per cent capacity. People’s idea of how to get to and from the airport has been changed and many who had never used public transit before are now fans of this cheap, convenient and fast way to travel.

Vancouver becoming a greener city

The move away from cars to transit not only makes Vancouver a greener city. It also makes Vancouver a better place to do business. Michael Goldberg of the Sauder School of Business at UBC has shown that the economic effectiveness of a city can be measured by how many meetings a person can get to in one day. The improved and growing Sky Train system means that more time will be spent doing productive work and less, sitting in traffic.

Speaking of sitting in traffic, the biggest time stressor on workers is the commuting time. During the Games, because of road closures and other restrictions, employers were encouraged to seek out ways that people could telecommute, working electronically from home and not needing to spend any time traveling. Having learned that telecommuting is possible, perhaps we won’t be so tied to the old 20th century idea of having to come to a specific place of work every day. This would reduce travel over the long term, make our environment cleaner and lower stress on workers so they can be more productive. That would be a lasting and valuable legacy from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Roslyn Kunin is Director of the BC office for the Canada West Foundation.

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, February 9, the Vancouver Province, February 10, 2010

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