Recently a member of Whistler council opined that with all the programs and preparations for the Olympics in 2010, municipal staff just wasn’t going to have the time to deal with many new projects in the next three years. Interestingly, the renovation and expansion of municipal hall would seem to be one of the last items added to the list of tasks to be done before 2010.
The Olympic Games have helped focus a lot of people’s attention on what needs to be done in Whistler in the next 37 months. On the development side, the Olympic venues, of course, are well under construction and will be finished ahead of the Games. The athletes’ village is also moving along. The Olympic medals plaza on Lots 1 and 9 in Village North is still in the conceptual stage but it too will have to be completed by the fall of 2009. The sewage treatment plant still has to be upgraded. And it’s anticipated that most of the original village buildings that haven’t already been renovated will be upgraded in the next couple of years.
On an organizational level, marketing plans are being developed and coordinated to take advantage of the Olympics. Various committees are starting to work on strategies for putting on World Cup test events, for keeping traffic moving, for hosting the families of Olympic competitors, for ensuring local businesses are prepared for the Games, and for communicating this information to people. As well, people in the arts and culture fields are working feverishly to take advantage of the opportunities and money that come with the Games.
But while there is a lot of effort going into preparing for 2010, there has been less focus on 2011. And the Whistler landscape could be very different by then.
To start with, think about some of the senior staff and managers at municipal hall and Whistler-Blackcomb. They won’t be shipped off to an old-folks home after the Olympics, but some will be at a point in their careers where they may want to step back a bit and do something less intense. It’s not only athletes who see the Olympics as the pinnacle of their careers. And having been a part of the preparation and staging of the Games, some of these community leaders will have skills and experiences that will be in demand elsewhere.
Similarly, many business owners are reaching an age where they may decide it is time to scale back their day-to-day workload and/or try something different. We have already seen some long-time Whistler business people sell their businesses, and more are likely to do so in the next three years. The prospects for selling a business just seem better prior to 2010 than post-Olympics.
One sector of the business community that may see considerable turnover is the outdoor adventure tours. With a number of companies offering tours — snowmobiles, ATVs, snowshoes, boats, fishing — it would seem to be an area where one firm managing a variety of different companies and tours could offer greater efficiencies. The field appears ripe for consolidation.
So the question is, who are the people who will succeed these senior managers and business owners? Are they people here now who are being groomed to take over or will they come from outside Whistler?
Part of the answer to those questions may lie in the age-old issue of affordable housing. We know there will be more affordable housing after the Olympics, in the form of the athletes’ village. How much will be added prior to 2010, and will it be enough to keep some of our future leaders here, is open to debate.
Whistler’s prospects for 2011 also hinge on addressing the labour shortage that is now affecting Western Canada but is expected to be a continent-wide issue. Extraordinary efforts have been made this year to attract seasonal workers, and that kind of effort will be needed every year for the next decade or so. But as some businesses are finding out now, the issue is not just finding labour but finding affordable accommodation for these people. It’s going to become more of an issue as the competition for labour increases.
Then there is the possibility that climate change may gradually force Whistler to put more emphasis on summer business than winter visits. It’s not something we like to think about or discuss publicly, but then again our focus is on 2010.