You might wonder why an Israeli technology company would set up its North American headquarters in Winnipeg, rather than in a host of larger Canadian or U.S. cities. And you're not alone.
Even the top executive of the company -- Traffilog Inc.-- wondered the same thing.
"Hans (Peper) and I told him we wanted to bring it (Traffilog's mobile fleet management technology) to North America, but only if we could be based out of Winnipeg," businessman Michel Aziza said during a recent interview.
"His first question was, 'Where is Winnipeg?'" Aziza said. "Then he asked, "Well, why Winnipeg?'"
So Aziza and Peper explained that not only is Winnipeg at the geographical centre of North America, it's also a major Canadian transportation hub, with a host of national and multinational trucking firms headquartered here.
They also pointed out it has a skilled workforce, the cost of operating a business is lower here than in most major North American cities, "and the (central) time zone was important, too," Peper said.
And last but not least, he and Aziza both live here. While neither is from here originally, this is where they want to be. So it was Winnipeg or nothing as far as they were concerned.
They obviously made a convincing case, because Traffilog gave them the go-ahead. So on Sept. 1, Traffilog North America Inc. opened its office in downtown Winnipeg, with a staff of eight full-time employees.
Aziza and Peper said they expect that number to grow to at least 18 by the end of next year as the company continues to roll out its product across Canada and expand into the United States. The additional workers it will be hiring include engineers, program managers and sales people.
Traffilog's web- and cellular-based telematics system consists of a central processing unit and a modem that can be mounted under the dash of any vehicle. The system provides real-time monitoring of driver safety and driving style, as well as fuel consumption, vehicle performance, and vehicle health. The data is analyzed on board and relayed via cellular networks to the customer's office. A communications tablet can also be mounted in the cab to give the driver access to the information.
Traffilog already has pilot projects running at eight sites in Canada, with a ninth about to be launched. The companies it is targeting include trucking firms, transit and school bus operators, taxi companies, and courier companies. Two other emerging markets are mining and oil and gas companies, and cell phone companies.
Peper said AT&T in the United States wants to offer Traffilog's system to cellphone customers because it enables parents to prevent their children from using their cell while driving.
"This is a whole different consumer application," Peper added.
Innovative Hydrogen Solutions, an Aurora, Ont.-based company that manufactures and sells hydrogen-injection systems for reducing fuel consumption and hydro-carbon emissions on trucks, is one of the firms involved in one of Traffilog's pilot projects.
Company spokesman Tim Wardle said Innovative has begun installing the Traffilog system on the vehicles of all of its customers, including Schroeder Freight Inc. of St. Norbert. The system not only monitors the vehicle's fuel consumption, but also how well Innovative's hydrogen-injection system is performing.
"The capabilities of their system blew me away," Wardle said, adding it's far superior to any other systems he looked at.
Traffilog North America's director of marketing and communications, Danita Aziza, said the company as received a lot of help from Yes! Winnipeg, the private-sector organization that was created nearly two years ago to help attract new businesses to Winnipeg and to help existing firms expand their operations here.
She and Michel Aziza said Yes! Winnipeg introduced them to a number of potential customers in Winnipeg.
"One of the biggest challenges of any start-up venture is how do you make these connections. Yes! Winnipeg has made that so much easier for us. That's part of the reason we have been able, in a very short period of time, to launch all of these pilot projects."