For stronger economy, leaders must lead
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/09/2022 (197 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This is what it feels like to be treated like second-class Manitobans in Manitoba’s second-largest city. This is what it feels like to be left behind.
Thursday’s edition of this newspaper had a report on Page A5 that should have been on the front page. It should be mandatory reading — a mandatory reality check — for anybody who wants Brandon to grow with a healthy economy and a safe, thriving downtown.
The headline of the report was “MTA has major plans for Winnipeg.” It describes the work being done by an organization named Manitoba Technology Accelerator to help entrepreneurs develop successful, thriving businesses. The Skip the Dishes business venture is their biggest success so far, and they are working to add to that list.
The report quotes MTA CEO Marshall Ring as saying, “We want this place to be a digital and technology environment that helps normalize ‘world class’ in Winnipeg.” It then says, “Whereas Winnipeg has a predisposition to be OK with lagging behind other places when it comes to innovation, Ring said, its new International Centre for Innovation will help people realize ‘that Winnipeg has world class infrastructure, ideas, people.’”
The story about MTA echoes another report from a few weeks ago in the Winnipeg Free Press (“A winning pitch,” Aug. 16), which discussed the work done in Winnipeg by North Forge Technology Exchange to nurture emerging technology-based businesses and the arrival of another venture capital company (Startup TNT) in Winnipeg.
Their presence will make it easier for Winnipeg entrepreneurs to grow their businesses from the “idea stage” into a going, growing concern.
Finally, there was a report in this newspaper earlier this year (“Venture capital fund to be more independent from government,” April 29) that said this: “The Manitoba government is putting up $50 million to get back into the venture capital game … The new Venture Capital Fund is to be more independent from government and overseen by a board to be appointed in the coming months. It will not invest directly in companies, but instead in existing private investment funds that provide capital to companies.”
The provincial government news release that announced the new $50-million fund included this sentence: “The government will enter into an agreement with Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA) to manage the funding until the VCF is operational later this year.”
In other words, $50 million in tax dollars contributed by Manitobans from all over the province for economic development is being managed by a company that is committed to making Winnipeg “the startup capital of Western Canada.” And, once the venture capital fund is fully up and running, the money will be invested in “private investment funds” that say they are focused on growing Winnipeg businesses.
By now, you may have noticed that conspicuously absent from those news reports, and from the government news release, is any mention of Brandon.
It’s not an oversight. Last year, I wrote about some of my experiences while working in the premier’s office in Winnipeg (“On our own with economic growth,” Nov. 26, 2021) and discussed a time in 2017, when I was instructed to write a speech that said a 2016 KPMG study had concluded that Winnipeg had the lowest cost of doing business in midwestern North America, even though the study found that the cost was even lower in Brandon.
The Selinger government had made the same false claim in a 2014 news release, when Brandon was once again found to be a more affordable place to do business than Winnipeg.
I ended that column with these words: “As we look to rebuild the Brandon and Westman economy in a post-pandemic world, we can’t rely on people in other cities and regions to do our economic development for us. Their priorities aren’t always the same as ours.”
That was my position almost a year ago and, if anything, I am more convinced now than I was then. The hard reality is that the economic development deck is stacked against Brandon in this province, and it has been for many, many years.
It’s as if Brandon doesn’t have a business community full of great ideas that would benefit from financial support. It’s as if our local economy doesn’t need more high-paying, high-tech jobs that might convince our kids to stay here after graduation. It’s as if our struggling downtown doesn’t need an infusion of investment, energy and enthusiasm.
It’s as if the decision-makers in Winnipeg have forgotten — or are ignoring — the fact that Brandon has both a university and a community college that each graduate hundreds of students annually with the future-focused knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the new economy.
Frankly, it’s as if we don’t even exist.
That’s the point: when it comes to economic development and innovation, we don’t exist in the eyes of Winnipeg politicians and bureaucrats. We aren’t even an afterthought.
They aren’t thinking about us inside the Perimeter, and we must stop assuming they are. We have to shake the belief that being polite and patiently waiting for “our turn” will eventually pay off for us, because that’s not how this game works. Winnipeg always looks after Winnipeg.
The fact is that Brandon has “world-class infrastructure, ideas and people,” too. But if we want economic growth and investment, we need to go get it. We need to fight for our fair share, and for our future.
We need to stop waiting for people from outside our community to solve our problems and seize our opportunities for us.
Most of all, Brandon needs its leaders at city hall and in the business community to step up and lead in a strong, consistent and conspicuous way. If they can’t or won’t do that, we might as well get used to the idea of being left further and further behind.
» Twitter: @deverynross