The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) is launching 2020 with a racing start. On January 22, the nonprofit celebrated a ribbon cutting to announce its new office space at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW. WMSC formerly shared space at 171 Monroe Ave. NW with Experience Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau. While sharing that space gave the sports-focused nonprofit a boost in developing its brand identity and outreach, having its own home field will have advantages.
“Moving into our own office allows us, as a staff, to operate the way we need to. Putting on the very many events required a little more space,” says Mike Guswiler, president of WMSC. “Getting back to that brand identity, we’ve taken that into the design of that office space. It allows us to bring our clients, whether they’re local clientele or national, into the space and be able to show them who we are and what we are about.”
WMSC also hired a new national sales manager in January. Alyssa Updegrave will pitch Grand Rapids as a vibrant sports destination. Updegrave moves here from Nashville, Tennessee, where she served as race director for Ironman and got a lot of experience working extremely large events.
“We’re very excited to have Alyssa join us,” Guswiler says. “What’s great about bringing a new person on is really that fresh perspective. She comes from Nashville so, when you look at our market size and what Nashville would bring in experience, we know there’s some great opportunity there. I think she will bring to this experience to the position and help us secure greater events.”
The WMSC signature event, the Meijer State Games of Michigan, gives exposure to more 8,000 Michigan athletes working within local sports organizations. The WMSC is partnering with the Meijer State Games to bring the third USA Masters Games to Grand Rapids in June. This Olympic-style event has drawn upwards of 2,000 athletes age 21 and older from around the world.
“For our citizenry, it really allows them to experience the vibrancy that sports can bring on an international stage. Sports have that impact,” Guswiler says. “And, there’s opportunity for local athletes to participate in much of what we do.”
While fostering local economic development through sports tourism remains at the top of WMSC’s priorities, the organization also seeks to improve local residents’ quality of life, whether that be as participants in or spectators of large, local sporting events.
“The other benefit of bringing these sports in, like wrestling, fencing, tennis, and adaptive sports, we really need to lean on our local sports clubs and programs,” Guswiler says, noting that the organization also relies on volunteers from area sports clubs and other organizations during its events.
WMSC also creates opportunities for youth through partnerships with the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Olympic Field Days give kids a chance to meet Olympic athletes. The West Michigan Miracle League gives kids with disabilities the experience of playing baseball at the WMSC’s Art Van Sports Complex.
“The people we hire really embrace our mission and our community,” Guswiler concludes. “We’ve seen a local benefit and impact that’s wide-ranging. That will continue. We’re excited to be a part of that and continue to work in ways to connect our local region beyond economics.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
photos courtesy West Michigan Sports Commission