Better data management and more intense collaboration with the province and the city are helping Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) do a better job promoting business and tourism development in Winnipeg.
That — and that the technology sector is on the rise — was the message at EDW’s annual general meeting on Monday.
As if to show off the fact that EDW, the city and province are all on the same page, the AGM included a panel discussion with Dayna Spiring, EDW’s president and CEO, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Cliff Cullen, minister of growth, enterprise and trade.
Spiring said, “The focus on data and the focus on market intelligence has never happened before. We dabbled (in the past) but we have not done the heavy lifting before. We are doing it in collaboration with the province and the city. That ability to work together is something we have never seen.”
In addition to appearing together and speaking in a way that was mutually supportive, Bowman, Cullen and Spiring all agreed that the technology sector was a field in the city where they are expecting some new growth.
Cullen said the province is hoping to have an economic development strategy completed by the end of the year.
He said there would be different emphasis in different regions of Manitoba, but the province wants to work with the technology sector to find ways to help it grow.
“There is a real interest in the tech sector,” he said.
“We want to work with them to grow the tech sector to keep those jobs in Manitoba. It’s a great way to keep young Manitobans in Manitoba.”
Michael Legary, the newly appointed chief innovation officer for the city, was the moderator of the panel discussion. Bowman emphasized the connection, saying, “The city is putting a lot of focus on innovation.”
The meeting, which brought together about 200 of the city’s business leaders, was held in the aftermath of news that Great-West Lifeco and IGM Financial, two of the city’s largest employers, would be trimming their Winnipeg workforce, along with Manitoba Hydro’s efforts to cut about 900 jobs.
EDW’s message was that the city’s economy would be able to handle those job losses and that the tech sector might be the source for some future employment growth.
“For every job that Hydro and Great-West Life cuts, we have startups ready to shoot the light out,” Spiring said.
Josh Simair, the CEO of the star of that sector — Skip the Dishes — has just been named to the board of EDW.
While there is lots of promising activity from new technology companies, organizations that support the startup community rely on provincial funding and they are still waiting for word about the province’s commitment to ongoing support.
In the meantime, in addition to Skip the Dishes — which has about 200 Winnipeg employees and was recently valued at about $200 million in a deal that saw it sold to a U.K. firm — there are other companies on the rise.
Marshall Ring, the CEO of Manitoba Technology Accelerator, said there could be two or three other companies working with MTA that will emerge in the next couple of years valued at more than $100 million.
“What’s interesting is that people in Winnipeg didn’t talk like that before,” he said.
“Now they don’t look at me like I’m crazy — they believe it. We have the talent, we have the collaborations and enough capacity and momentum to start generating companies that can become significant global operations.”
One of EDW’s ongoing efforts is to convince Winnipeg’s business leaders to become ambassadors for the city.
To some extent there is evidence those efforts are starting to have some effect.
Bowman said when he travels across the country there is a change in the way people are talking about the city.
“People are realizing there is a positive momentum here,” he said. “The phrase I hear is, ‘Winnipeg is back.’ “