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Centrallia bringing deal-makers together

Winnipeg’s business image shines at global conference

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There are 712 people registered to attend Centrallia and participate in speed-dating meetings Thursday and Friday, including a couple of hundred local business people.

And even if there’s not a single deal concluded, the global business conference will still be a success.

That’s because an event such as this is a fantastic excuse to attract attention to the city as a place to do business.

And the fact is, Winnipeg actually does have a pretty good story to tell and the various powers that be are getting better at telling it.

Centrallia also becomes the backdrop and a rationale of sorts for other ancillary events to take place.

For instance, this week will be the first visit to Winnipeg by the French ambassador to Canada, Phillippe Zeller, as well as his Toronto-based consul general. Centrallia has also brought in senior officials from the Argentine consul-general’s office.

A Centrallia-type event held in northern Ontario in November targeted at the resource sector is promoting its event to delegates in Winnipeg creating a virtuous circle of sorts, connecting even more people with other types of business opportunities.

Maybe most powerful of all the Centralliatimed sideline events in the city is the presence of eight professional site selectors, members of the newly formed Chicago-based Site Selectors Guild.

No matter how good a city’s economic-development agency is in attracting new businesses to their jurisdiction, at some point in the process a professional site selector needs to be sold on the city.

It’s an occupational hazard for site selectors to be too high-profile when on a familiarity tour to a city because every commercial real estate professional who’s ever closed a deal would be besieging them with pitches.

So consequently they are keeping a low profile here as is Yes! Winnipeg, which arranged the tour.

But enough people were aware of it. One person who was at a breakfast event said it was evident the group was favourably impressed with the city.

When asked how important site selectors are in the process of attracting new players, one senior business leader in the city who was sworn to secrecy about their presence said emphatically, "They are KEY!"

Another under the same gag order said, "They are responsible for so much foreign direct investment."

Whatever image they may have had of the city might have been further bolstered had they attended a lunch event sponsored by the Winnipeg law firm Thompson Dorfman Sweatman on doing business in Canada.

CentrePort Canada CEO Diane Gray gave a powerful pitch not only on the value of Centre-Port but generally on how excellent it is to do business in Winnipeg.

Citing a litany of recent all-star rankings — from Forbes magazine listing Canada as the best country in the world to do business, to KPMG’s analysis that Winnipeg is the most cost-effective out of 22 central Canadian and U.S. cities for business to another piece of independent research that shows Winnipeg is the best place in the country to do distribution — Gray painted the picture of place that really is tuned up and one that works..

One Centrallia participant, Kevin Bossy, the CEO of an environmental technology business based near Ottawa, casually commented before Gray’s speech about how it seems there is so much going on in Winnipeg.

After the speech, Bossy said he was very impressed.

Mariela Rossi, a trade and business development consultant in Argentina, has brought 12 Argentine businesses to Centrallia as a delegation leader. (Delegation leaders are paid a fee for each registration they bring in.) Rossi said one of them, in the mining technology business, is very motivated to make an investment in Manitoba.

"I know I am not going become a millionaire from being a Centrallia recruiter," she said. "It is an investment for me. (Centrallia) gives you the chance to march with the right people and it’s magic if you follow up."

Asked if she thought any of the companies she brought to Winnipeg would make profitable contacts, she said, "I am positive they will."


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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash


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