Enticing Olympic visitors to stay

When the world comes to Vancouver-Whistler in two weeks, Maple Ridge economic development manager Sandy Blue is hoping a few folks will stick around, with their money and jobs.

The district is part of the 2010 Business Program, set up by Metro Vancouver Commerce, that targets 100 business guests, representing 50 companies, who may be here for more than to just see the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

Three of those companies, two from the western U.S. and one from the eastern U.S., are interested in Maple Ridge.

None of those companies make aircraft, computer operating systems or run coffee bistro chains.

Daily announcements of business deals are expected from Vancouver throughout the Games, but Blue hopes the representatives interested in this area have time for a quick visit.

“We hope to know by the end of next week,” whether that’s possible, she said.

The 2010 Business Program will take place over three years, but is focused on the Winter Olympics, hoping to use the event as a catalyst.

The investors, most of whom haven’t been to Vancouver before, will be courted by Metro Vancouver Commerce, an economic development agency funded by nine Lower Mainland cities, as well as the District of Maple Ridge.

While the guests have to pay their own travel costs, once here, their four days’ accommodation, local travel, events, Olympic clothing and meals will be covered by Metro Vancouver Commerce.

Activities will include meetings with government leaders and other businesses, as well as visiting Games sports and cultural events and venue tours.

They’ll also be given business-orientation sessions to acquaint them with tax laws, hiring and other regulations.

Blue said the invitees have been thoroughly screened to ensure they’re really interested.

“They had to be sufficiently well enough along,” to qualify for the program.

“It’s not frivolous at all. We’ve been working on this for a year.”

Without Maple Ridge joining Metro Vancouver Commerce, it could never afford the exposure, she pointed out.

“We have very limited resources here.

“We’d never be able to get access to these companies without our association with Metro Vancouver Commerce.”

Maple Ridge is also taking advantage of what it hopes will draw international interest by buying the back page of Invest in B.C. magazine.

The simple ad showing Golden Ears will draw people to the district’s economic development website and allow the department to track the hits and areas of interest.

The 2010 Business Program costs $1.5 million and is funded in part by the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification agency.

It’s the first time that local governments have come together in a regional business approach to ensure they maximize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by the 2010 Olympics, an earlier news release said.

The sectors targeted include new media and gaming, aerospace, renewable energy, environmental technology, agriculture, green building technology, biotech and wireless communication.