In our new series, Can I See You in My Office, we’re looking at head offices and the economic benefits they provide to both municipal and provincial economies. In Part Two, we “peek over the fence” to see how Economic Development Winnipeg is working to attract new business to Manitoba and look at Regina’s quest to become the home of Canada’s new water agency.
Winnipeg. Besides being the home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ sworn enemy—the Blue Bombers (yuck)—and an Ikea (yay!), the city is also garnering serious attention for its commitment to economic development. Over the past five years, Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) has done its homework on how to attract new business to the city and those efforts are paying off. EDW captured the attention of international game developer Ubisoft. After a well-placed cold call and three years of hard work, EDW landed the company’s latest studio location in Canada.
Ubisoft Winnipeg opened in 2019 to great fanfare and pledged to invest $35 million in Manitoba and create 100 highly skilled jobs. The city is also home to CentrePort Canada, North America’s largest trimodal inland port and foreign trade zone, which saw 12 new companies set up shop in 2020 alone. Merit Functional Foods has recently opened a new 94,000 square-foot processing facility, and Wellington-Altus Private Wealth unveiled its new Winnipeg headquarters this summer—these are just some of the highlights of EDW’s hard work coming to fruition.
We caught up with Dayna Spiring, Economic Development Winnipeg’s president & CEO, to see what the secret is to Winnipeg’s success. “Over the last five years, we have become better storytellers about what Winnipeg can offer business,” says Spiring. “We looked at the strengths we have—such as our long-standing businesses like Richardson and New Flyer and our hardworking, humble prairie roots—and decided to let our past success help breed our future success.” EDW wanted to create excitement about Winnipeg among its business community, so that “when Winnipeggers were in the lounge at Pearson, they would talk about how great Winnipeg is to anyone who would listen.”
EDW also dug into Winnipeg’s competitive advantage and built out reams of valuable information that potential prospects could use to make informed decisions about relocation or expansion to Manitoba. Finally, the organization uses its YES! Winnipeg business development team to act as a concierge to anyone interested in doing business in the city. The YES! team also built relationships with the Winnipeg business community to create a team of ambassadors ready to roll out the red carpet when prospects showed interest in the city.
“Because Winnipeg is still relatively small, we can ‘gather the troops’ quickly when it’s time to show what our city offers,” says Spiring. “You can’t do that in Vancouver or Montreal, but you can do it here.”
The five years of work has have paid off in spades, and there are big plans for the next five. “We’re constantly building at EDW. We have learned what sectors do well here and now we’re proactively finding the companies that are a great fit. We can point to our successes from the past five years and bundle them with our excellent quality of life and low cost of doing business. Winnipeg is big enough to have the amenities people and businesses want, and small enough to welcome them warmly. That’s our ‘secret sauce’, but it doesn’t mean Winnipeg has to be a secret anymore.”
Let’s Talk H20
With water challenges growing due to climate change, the federal government announced plans in December 2020 for the establishment of the new Canada Water Agency to tackle freshwater management across the country.
The announcement caught the attention of several jurisdictions in the country, interested in attracting the headquarters of the new federal agency. The City of Regina and the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council announced in March that the City will put in a bid for the headquarters when the opportunity becomes available.
“It’s a natural fit for Regina,” says Frank Hart, board chair at Economic Development Regina. “Regina was the home of the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration for decades. A major part of the PFRA’s mandate was water management, and it makes sense to bring that back to the place where it began.”
EDR also sees synergy for the Canada Water Agency with the Lake Diefenbaker water project, currently in development. “The Lake Diefenbaker initiative is the largest water infrastructure project the country will see in at least a generation, and it will profoundly change prairie agriculture production for the better,” says Hart. “Add that to Protein Industries Canada and Farm Credit Canada headquarters here, the opportunity for Indigenous engagement and collaboration, the history we have in water management, and our skilled labour force, and it makes Regina the natural place for the Canada Water Agency to land.”
EDR will continue to make Regina’s case as they await the budget and subsequent decisions around the location of the Agency. “We’re already at work, consulting partners for the project. Regina has a long history with water, and it just makes sense to bring the agency back to where its roots are.”