Sunday, March 27, 2011

Building a fit economy: EDC, others going for the gold

2011-03-25 15:00:16

From hitting the links at The Broadmoor to racing up Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs’ sports scene is a vibrant one — and a potentially golden one for the local economy.

The Springs, home to the U.S. Olympic Committee and nearly two dozen Olympic national governing bodies, has long been touted as an amateur-sports capital. It’s also the site of some major sporting events this year, including the opening stage of the inaugural Quiznos Pro Challenge cycling competition and the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor. All this in a city that’s been hailed as one of the nation’s fittest, in a state consistently crowned as the thinnest.

That image of a fit, sports-focused city is one the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. and others are working to tap into to attract businesses and generate jobs as the economic recovery creeps forward. A report prepared by Angelou Economics for the economic development effort known as Operation 6035 identified sports, health and wellness as a target industry; it’s now a target industry in the EDC’s five-year strategic plan for 2011-2015.

Sports, health and wellness is a broad umbrella, acknowledges Mike Kazmierski, EDC president and CEO. For the EDC, he said, it could mean, for example, trying to attract a sports-equipment manufacturer, highlighting the Springs’ sports and recreational opportunities or trying to attract a California company whose workers are tired of smog and long commutes.

“It’s not as clean as saying we’re going to bring an aerospace company. It’s a little fuzzier, but it has a lot of potential and it’s part of our brand,” Kazmierski said.

To bring more clarity to the mission, the EDC is developing three industry teams that fall under that umbrella, said David White, EDC vice president of marketing: one focused on sports organizations and sports-related companies, one on health-information systems and one dedicated to medical-device manufacturers.

“The focus of these teams will be to help us develop a plan to attract these industries,” White said. The sports-industry team will consider how to build on the Springs’ current sports assets. Similarly, the medical-device team will look at how to add to an existing “minicluster” of medical-device manufacturers that includes Spectranetics and Bal Seal Engineering. As for health-information systems, White sees it as a growing industry that offers potential for the Springs.

“We felt with our experience and relevance in the IT industry ... that we would be a good location for those types of companies,” he said.

Dual missions

Keith Meier, president and CEO of DesignWorks Architecture and Construction, heads the EDC’s sports-industry team. Just as the EDC has put more focus on retaining existing businesses along with trying to attract new ones, Meier sees a dual mission for the sports team: creating strategies to attract new sports organizations and businesses while also fostering what the city already has. His team includes representatives from such local entities as the USOC and the Springs-based National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“That way,” he said, “I can find out what does work for them here and what doesn’t, and what they’d like to see the community do to help them grow.”

Key to the city’s sports base is the USOC, whose new downtown headquarters engendered ill will among some residents; they questioned the city’s deal with the organization to provide that headquarters. The USOC and other Olympics-related organizations and businesses here generated a $215 million economic impact on the Pikes Peak region in 2009, according to a study released last fall. The study also called the USOC and Olympics-related organizations “a catalyst for growth” in the Springs sports sector.

“The USOC is one of our main anchors in this community,” White said. “Their brand is known worldwide.”

The EDC is not alone in fostering a sports agenda. Part of the mission statement of the nonprofit Colorado Springs Sports Corp. is to “attract, retain and support local, state and national sports organizations and businesses.” The Sports Corp. also works to draw sports events, as does Experience Colorado Springs, the local convention and visitors bureau.

White says the EDC works closely with the Sports Corp.

“If we do get a prospect that is a national governing body, for example, we always invite their participation in closing the deal,” he said. “Sometimes they take the lead and we support. Sometimes we take the lead and they support.”

The Sports Corp.’s mission is not just an economic one. “We are full time into promoting sports and supporting sports on various fronts,” said Mike Moran, senior media consultant to the organization — “sort of the glue” that binds the sports community together, he said.

The Springs isn’t the only community touting its sports assets. Moran points to Indianapolis as a city that has a gained a reputation as a hub for amateur sports. But the Springs, with nearly 50 sports organizations that have either domestic or international headquarters here, is unique, Moran said.

“There is no other city in the United States that has this broad base of sports activity in terms of sports administration and governance,” he said.

Having such a cluster helps in attracting even more such groups, White said.

“If you’re an executive in a sports organization, you want to be in a place where if your current job doesn’t work out, you have other opportunities.”

An image booster

Though the EDC is not involved in attracting sports events, those events do help to build the city’s sports brand, White said.

Chelsy Murphy, public relations manager for Experience Colorado Springs, cites two benefits of hosting sports events here. One is the direct economic impact of “heads in beds,” of visitors staying here and spending money here. The number of room nights booked through Experience Colorado Springs for sports and special events in 2009, the most recent data available, topped 98,000; that accounted for about a third of Experience Colorado Springs’ group sales.

The other benefit: shining a spotlight on the Springs for something other than darkened streetlights and other city cutbacks that have been highlighted by national media.

“These great events like the Open and the Quiznos Challenge are just another way to communicate what our destination has to offer,” Murphy said.

The city, though, is limited in its ability to host larger national events, Moran said. The Colorado Springs World Arena, which touts itself as the premier sports and entertainment venue in the Pikes Peak region, has a seating capacity of roughly 8,000 for, say, a basketball event, Moran said — and less than that for hockey. The Sports Corp., though, has benefited greatly from a partnership with the Air Force Academy, which has made hosting such events as the Rocky Mountain State Games possible, Moran said.

In addition to the new headlinemakers, a steady diet of annual events — including the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon and what Moran calls “a totally re-energized” Pikes Peak International Hill Climb — feeds the image of Colorado Springs as a sports hub.

“A positive sports image resonates,” Moran said. Sports events “are reasons to come, reasons to get involved and go out and enjoy things. It’s part of quality of life.”

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