State games good for local economy

July 6, 2009
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When the West Michigan Sports Commission announced last week that it was starting the State Games of Michigan and that Grand Rapids would host the multi-sport, Olympic-style festival next June, board chairman Richard Vander Molen noted that the two-year-old organization was created to support and encourage youth sports and economic development.

“When people come here from out of town, we like them to spend some money,” said Vander Molen, also a Kent County commissioner.

WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler estimated the inaugural three-day event set for June 25-27 would draw 2,500 athletes here for that weekend and would be worth more than $600,000 to area hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.

“In these tough economic times, we’re looking at every avenue that we can to find ways to boost our local economy in West Michigan,” said Wayman Britt, WMSC vice chairman and Kent County assistant administrator.

“When you have the numbers that we’re thinking about that would come here to participate over a three-day period, it’s going to definitely have an impact on the restaurants, our hotels, our shops. And people are going to get to know West Michigan as a place to come and visit and to do business,” he added.

The very first state games will feature competition in 10 sports, including basketball, softball and volleyball. Guswiler said the commission hopes to expand the list in the coming years and would add baseball to the annual event if an agreement can be made to lease some property the county owns in Rockford and funds can be found to build a 12-field baseball and softball complex on Ten Mile Road.

“As the years go on, we’ll add more sports,” said Tim Selgo, chair of the commission’s committee that is organizing the event and a member of the WMSC executive committee.

“Certainly, we’re going to look at more games than those,” said Selgo, also athletic director at Grand Valley State University.

Britt, who played basketball for the University of Michigan and the Detroit Pistons, said roughly 500,000 athletes participate each year in all the state games held in the nation every summer.

“It will have an impact on our economy and our quality of life,” he said.

“I think the people who come here (for the games) will want to come back and visit. This is a great place to live and work. We’re going to create in the minds of the state of Michigan — the east side of Michigan — the idea that Grand Rapids, West Michigan and Kent County are places where they can come and enjoy themselves and regenerate themselves.”

Guswiler said the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids has agreed to market the games through the state’s network of Ys, and that the host venues for the various sports would be announced at a later date.

Vander Molen said when the sports commission was founded in 2007, through financial support from Kent County and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, organizers wanted to establish a signature event for the region, and the State Games of Michigan fills that bill.

“If there is going to be a State Games of Michigan,” said Selgo, “it should be held in West Michigan.”

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