Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Winnipeg Business in Heartlandia

Talks have resumed around the development of an economic corridor, dubbed "Heartlandia," between Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwestern Ontario, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Combined, the region accounts for around $400 billion dollars in regional GDP which equates to 25% of Canada's overall GDP. "There is a need for opportunities to interact on a personal basis," says Klaus Thiessen, CEO of the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corps. "There are all sorts of natural commercial and cultural ties in the region. The idea is to do it in a more structured way."

Though the provincial government has yet to confirm any part in Heartlandia, Premiere Gary Doer has made it a major priority during his tenure to build strong relationships with the respective governors and premieres. Says Riva Harrison of Manitoba Trade, "The premier's style is to be very engaged with governors in other states. He has very strong alliances with a number of them. It is a way to get things done and generate business and that is ultimately the goal. Any proposed alliance would always be considered in an open mind."

Business, academic and community leaders in Manitoba and North Dakota got together last fall in Grand Forks to discuss the potential development of Heartlandia, and the plan is to have a second summit, this time in Winnipeg. It is believed that the development of Winnipeg's inland port is a major motivation to talks being renewed between the economic regions.

Winnipeg's Human Rights Museum Losing Public Confidence

Still three years from it's first visitor, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is already millions short on the budget required for both its capital costs and its annual operating needs. The museum has reported they need a minimum of $5.2 million in operating funds from Ottawa this year alone to keep construction and development going.

The federal government has already responded to say they would not provide additional funding on top of the $100 million towards construction and the approximately $21.7 million required in annual operating costs.

Museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie has provided little direction as to what the real number is in respect to the funds required for both continued construction and operating costs. "There is no total figure yet. It's difficult right now when you don't know how much it will cost to heat a building in 2012." Isn't this a requirement when establishing the initial budget? Inflation is taught in Economics 101.

My guess is that a lot of taxpayers and donors are wondering just when they'll be tapped to foot the bill. The museum is doing themselves a great injustice in gaining momentum for what should be a world class facility into what is appearing to be a major lesson in poor financial planning. This stigma seems like its becoming a stain on the Asper legacy, one I hope they can reconcile before Winnipeggers and Winnipeg business completely give up on this global attraction.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winnipeg's Inland Port Holds First Open House

CentrePort Canada, Winnipeg's inland port, held their first open house May 13th, 2009. What the event was, and what I expected it to be were completely different.

I went with the impression that it would be a town hall setting where the public could step up to the mic to ask questions to the board or at least a few members of the board. Instead, the event was put on by MMM Group, the firm hired by the Government of Manitoba to develop the Development Plan for the 20,000 acres dedicated to the project. They had staff present to answer questions, or try to answer questions, that would have been best answered by the board members. Poster boards and a slide show were placed throughout the small conference room outlining a very basic idea of what the project entailed. Also on hand was Harlan Mushumanski, Communications Coordinator with Communication Services Manitoba. Now, I must add that I didn't stay till the end of the event, so board members may have been present. However, considering the magnitude of Manitoba's inland port, should they not be there for the whole event?

I first spoke with an employee of MMM Group to get an understanding of their involvement. The gentleman really knew very little about the project as a whole, and when asked about the new website being promoted at the event, told me it was thrown together for the event, but with no intention of further development once their role was completed. This leads nicely into my conversation with Harlan.

In talking with Harlan I pointed out the fact that the bodies involved, from government to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, have really done nothing to collaborate all the information on CentrePort Canada to one central website for public review. I added that the government had already spent over $220 million dollars on the project, and with that comes questions from the taxpayers. For a Communications Coordinator he didn't seem to feel that this was a real issue considering what an early stage they are at in the port's development. Is it just me, or are Winnipeggers not seeking information on what the economic and social impacts will be on them as taxpayers? Maybe not... but that may be because most people still really have no idea the inland port is happening.

I've taken the time to ask a number of friends and Winnipeg business associates what they think of the project. To my concern, a number hadn't heard of the project and others thought it was just the airport extension. In fact, one of my colleagues was talking with the Union leader for Air Canada, and they didn't even know about the project at all.

Being a Winnipegger, I know how difficult people in this city accept change, and how angry they get about where their tax dollars are being used. Couple that with those concerned about the environment and green initiatives in the city, and Winnipeg's inland port becomes a very touchy subject. The board and other bodies involved need to recognize this, and should be flooding the internet with the positives this project will bring to our city and province. As one friend said when asked about the inland port, "what's in it for me?"

The Open House once again proves my point that Winnipeg needs to start accepting the role the internet plays in how people develop their opinions. They are seriously missing an opportunity to build the public's confidence in CentrePort Canada by not respecting that people, globally, are looking for information on this now. People believe what they read.

The most interesting conversation I had at the event was with a farmer from Rosser who's land is part of the 20,000 acres being developed. He has great concerns on the lost dollars he will experience if the government tries to aggressively acquire his land, and whether he will be paid a fair price. I asked him what the government has done to educate him on the project, and whether they have opened negotiations for his parcel of land. All he's received to date is an invitation to an open house that had no one there that could properly handle his concerns. How many others share these same concerns for their future well-being that aren't being heard? What resources are being put in place to help these people learn more? The internet is where they look, but as of today, only one Winnipeg private business is addressing these concerns, doing what they can to provide the information to those affected. At least someone understands that people need information, I just thought that this would come best from CenterPort Canada Inc. themselves.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Winnipeg Public Health Inspectors Need To Look Harder

The Sizzling Wok at St.Vital Centre is already back up and operational after being closed for a day after serving a baby rodent to a Winnipeg couple. One day?! I really struggle with this.

I realize we all risk our health anytime we place our faith in the food being served to us; but when a mouse is found by a patron, am I the only one that feels a day off the market is a bit short? I admit I have no experience in the supervision of food handling, but to think that they are already serving people again before the community has had a chance to properly digest the news seems absurd. Are we that hungry that we can't wait a few days to ensure that there are no further problems that could emerge?

I respect that they have no past history of food contamination, but this wasn't a hair in my soup... it was a rat people! Fight your urge for Chinese cuisine, and have a burger or something. I just can't understand how there cannot be further interrogation of the restaurant owners and their suppliers before firing up the wok again.

Don't these restaurant owners realize that they are hurting themselves long-term by opening up so quick? Having had only 24 hours to think about whether I would eat there again, I know now I wouldn't. I don't feel bad at all if their business goes bust because to me, it seems like their biggest concern is getting the shop up and running again to make some money, as opposed to staying closed and getting to the heart of the problem, showing that they care more about those they are serving than themselves.

The restaurant owners could learn something from Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods. Where are they? Where is their statement? The Manager of Public Health Inspection Programs Mike LeBlanc and the management of St. Vital should be seriously giving their heads a shake if they feel the public are okay with this restaurant opening a day later. Who runs the PR departments and when do they get fired? Do they think that people who roam the mall are hopeless drones, unaware of the news, just looking to consume whatever is in their path? Well... for some maybe, but for most, you can bet they won't be eating at the Sizzling Wok or any other food court restaurant for that matter considering how poorly this situation is being handled.

Before I end, I'd like to say that I do feel sorry for the couple who were served; not because they found a mouse, but because they are probably at home sick thinking back to all the times they ate there and never looked.

How's your stomach feeling? Lunch anyone?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Winnipeg's Inland Port Brimming With Potential

Winnipeg's inland port "will have a big impact for generations to come," boasted CentrePort Canada's chairman Kerry Hawkins during his first public address at a breakfast hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning. The room was filled with Winnipeg business leaders representing all industries that will benefit from Canada's first official inland port. The event was sponsored by Chris Lorenc and the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.

"Thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, that is the course we are on," said Hawkins, while comparing the project to the Port of Huntsville in Alabama. This area has generated 24,000 jobs and payrolls of over $1 billion dollars since being transformed from a cotton field to an inland port, and the chairman feels the same potential exists right here in Winnipeg.

The address spoke mainly of the immense opportunity being given to the city since the federal government pledged their dedication to the project, scratching a cheque for $212 million dollars for the construction of CentrePort Canada Way, a four-lane highway connecting the airport to Inkster Blvd. and the Perimeter Highway. Updates were also provided regarding the status of CentrePort Canada Inc., where they expect by July to have a CEO in place, and that they have now secured office space and will be moving in soon.

What really stood out in the address was how quickly things have evolved since the legislation passed for the creation of the CentrePort Canada Inc. back in September 2008. Already Edmonton and Saskatoon had been lobbying government for dollars to create their own inland ports, but the hard work of both the Board and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce have made Winnipeg the location of choice.

"It's not yet six months old and there is much more to do," stated Hawkins, but it is clear from the early success and the excitement in the room during the address that the potential can be reached.