When I took the position as editor of MIME, I was struck by how the meetings and events industry provided a window into so many facets of our state. After all, everyone has meetings and events. And these tap into everything from how people best connect with one another to how they learn.

Among the interesting discoveries has been how much under-the-radar activity we have in our state, efforts by dedicated people to draw people to Michigan. One of the hard-working organizations worth noting is the West Michigan Sports Commission, which recruits youth and amateur sporting events to the region.

The WMSC was founded 10 years ago. Since then, it has booked 568 sporting events and tournaments, attracting 880,000 athletes and visitors and generating $240 million in direct visitor spending.

In 2016 alone, the commission hosted 80 youth and amateur sporting events that attracted more than 154,850 athletes and visitors and generated more than $46 million in estimated direct visitor spending.

Those are significant figures. This isn’t the NFL or the NBA we’re talking about here. This is a nonprofit on the west side of the state that has figured out that youth and amateur sports can really matter to local economy and is working hard to make sure they do.

Such efforts tend to have a multiplying effect. The commission’s success helped drive the construction of the Art Van Sport Complex, which in turn has boosted the region’s profile in the market even more. The complex contributed $3 million in 2015, its first year of operation, and $5 million in 2016. The commission also expanded the Meijer State Games of Michigan, attracting more than 10,000 athletes to its summer and winter games and generating $3.5 million in direct visitor spending.

And, based on its goals for this year, the commission is clearly just getting started. It will host the 2017 State Games of America, a biennial four-day event expected to attract 12,000 athletes and 30,000 spectators from more than 40 states and Canada. The games are projected to generate $9.5 million for West Michigan, with hotel occupancy at capacity.

It’s also booked a range of national events to west Michigan, including:

  • NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball National Championships (March)
  • 2017 International Softball Congress Men’s World Tournament (August)
  • PDGA Masters World Championships (August)
  • USA Weightlifting American Open Series 3 (September)
  • NCAA DIII Women’s Volleyball National Championships (November)

Finally, the commission is pushing for investment in the region’s sports infrastructure, including potentially expanding the Art Van complex and developing a multi-sports complex that could host soccer, flag football, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey and other outdoor sports.

So, high five, WMSC. You’ve steadily improved the region’s economy, through some seriously tough times.

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