Winnipeg at the Tipping Point

I have always believed this city has an enormity of untapped potential, and now, the numbers are in.

The news that next year Manitoba will outdo nine of the 10 provinces in the barometer for economic health, the gross national product, was exciting but only confirmed what many of us have been witnessing for a long time. Manitoba has changed.

The Conference Board of Canada is forecasting a 2.9 per cent increase in Manitoba’s GDP this year, well ahead of the national pace of 1.9 per cent and second only to British Columbia.

There are certainly many factors that have forced other provinces like Alberta, bruised by the glut of oil on the market, further down the list. But Manitoba has gotten to the top of the list on its own steam — slowly, but surely.

From the World Trade Centre Winnipeg office on Provencher Boulevard we are reminded every day of how much things have changed just in the physical evidence of our capital’s skyline. In only 10 years, we’ve seen a utilitarian green wrought iron Provencher Bridge become the iconic Esplanade Riel, now with a national museum at one end, a pop-up restaurant and internationally designed warming huts on the river under it. That small snapshot is evidence of a special combination of public and private investment that Manitoba has become especially good at getting things done.

A few blocks away, the MTS Centre has sparked an entire sports, hospitality and entertainment district quickly becoming known as the SHED. A LEED Hydro building, the revival of heritage buildings along Main and into the Market Square and plans for Innovation Alley, are more evidence that this is quickly becoming a world-class city.

Just 20 years ago the francophone community realized that having won the language-rights battle and the right to its own school division, it now needed to strengthen its communities with strong businesses and stable local economies.

The important goal was to normalize French in Manitoba business and to show that French added value to business and the economy. Each community set out its own economic goal under the guidance of the newly formed Conseil de développement économique des municipalités bilingues du Manitoba (CDEM). The individual community goals ranged from building a wind farm in St. Leon (done), using the pork industry to grow LaBroquerie (done) and creating a tourist attraction and festival to celebrate Metis culture in St. Laurent (done and also on display in the Washington Smithsonian Institute). The pride in those achievements is evident in each and every one of those communities.

Today we see the same spirit and confidence in the aboriginal business leaders, from those who want to create eco-tourism opportunities in a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site to those opening up the first First Nation’s-owned gas station on an urban reserve in Winnipeg.

The growth in aboriginal businesses was particularly evident this past fall when several delegates from First Nations and Metis economic development agencies attended the three-day Centrallia Manitoba conference to do business-to-business meetings with delegates from across the province.

From where we sit at the World Trade Centre Winnipeg this quiet but unfaltering commitment to get business done — from downtown Winnipeg to bilingual municipalities to First Nations reserves to the various ethnic chambers and business councils — is at the foundation of the healthy economy and international trade.

To borrow from Malcom Gladwell’s speech at Centrallia 2012, Winnipeg has reached the tipping point and the Conference Board of Canada’s predictions that Manitoba’s economy will lead the nation in 2016 at three per cent growth in the GDP is just one more piece of evidence.

Mariette Mulaire is the president and CEO of the World Trade Centre Winnipeg.