With the ongoing speculation that Premier Brian Pallister will call an early election, his government may get its promised new economic development strategy in place just under the wire.
Mandate letters were sent out last week to the seven organizations that were identified four months ago to partner with the province in its Economic Growth Action Plan, which is primarily an effort to streamline delivery of economic development policy and support, and to do it on a lower budget.
Industry Minister Blaine Pedersen said he’s happy with progress so far. An Economic Development Office is up and running, headed up by the premier’s former chief of staff, Philip Houde, and Pedersen said the economic development committee cabinet is meeting on a regular basis now.
It should not surprise anyone that there is no magic solution to Manitoba’s slow-growth economy hidden in the seven two-page letters to the agencies — four entities representing the city, capital region, rural and the North and three strategic organizations: World Trade Centre Winnipeg, North Forge and Travel Manitoba.
To give the province the benefit of the doubt, it is more than just an off-loading of responsibilities to already established organizations that have existed for some time with a mandate to deliver support to their constituents.
In fairness, they all receive provincial funding support in one form or another, but with enhanced responsibilities — and pressure to deliver — there is an expectation from them all that greater resources will be required.
For instance, the province has already shuttered Manitoba Trade and the entirety of provincial trade support services is now being borne by World Trade Centre Winnipeg.
anitoba Trade typically participated in 70 trade missions per year, and Mariette Mulaire, the CEO of World Trade Centre (WTC) Winnipeg, said her organization would not be taking part in nearly that much foreign travel.
We have limited resources," she said. "There is no way we could do 70 of them. The government is trying to find savings and avoid duplication.
That’s probably a good thing, because there was a reason Manitoba Trade was wound down.
Mulaire believes WTC will be able to avail itself of her organization’s global network or more than 300 offices around the world. As well, rather than establishing its own in-house sector experts — Manitoba Trade had individual staffers dedicated to aerospace, agricultural equipment and manufacturing, etc. — Mulaire said WTC will partner with existing sector councils like the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and Manitoba Aerospace Association who are already experts in their fields with close ties on the ground.
The province has tiptoed into its commitment to devising its own economic development strategy. It commissioned studies from Deloitte as well as taking advantage of the goodwill of business leaders Dave Angus and Barb Gamey who spent weeks meeting with about 500 business people across the province — for free — to get the lay of the land.
The centrepiece of its "Team Manitoba" approach is that is should emphasize co-ordination, avoid duplication and set up a structure so there will be clear pathways for businesses, entrepreneurs and investors.
"There is more to this than just trying to land the next big fish. For instance, we have industries looking to expand and there are always lots of issues that go around that," Pedersen said.
This office will co-ordinate those things and make sure we can move ahead.
But crucial funding contribution agreements are not expected to be done until June, which means all those organizations are forced to continue operating frugally, perhaps by design.
While it’s hardly a surprise the funding uncertainty is discomforting, there is a fair amount of goodwill that positive outcomes are going to be produced.
"There is huge potential in the structure of the plan," said Teresa Dukes, the CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange, which is now charged with delivering business development support not just to small businesses and startups but to all sizes of enterprises across the whole province.
"There are a lot of opportunities for us to do things in a more focused, co-ordinated way by working together," she said.
Economic Development Winnipeg’s (EDW) new mandate with the provinces is really not much different than it always has been — to provide market data, assistance and support to "grow Winnipeg’s economy by helping to make business success in Winnipeg easier and more attractive and encouraging more people to come and see what Winnipeg has to offer."
Dayna Spiring, Economic Development Winnipeg’s CEO, said the organization has purposefully changed its focus to target specific companies and specific projects, including trying to attract talent to the city — a key piece in its new mandate.
"There has been a long history in Winnipeg and across the province of a ‘spray and pray’ philosophy where you try to do and be everything to everybody," she said.
At EDW, we are not doing that anymore. Our job now is to figure out exactly where we have a competitive advantage.