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City positioned for the future

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When the city is busy, its economic development agency, Economic Development Winnipeg, gets even busier.

At its annual meeting Tuesday, CEO Marina James said the organization, with its $5-million annual budget, is now at capacity.

"We have always been busy," James said. "Back a few years, there was activity, but not with the strategic focus there is now."

EDW is now about being strategic -- from sticking to its five-year master tourism plan to developing the Airport City concept to developing capital-region partnerships. For instance, the organization now has a purposeful business attraction and retention arm called Yes! Winnipeg.

One former EDW board member pointed out that when Saskatchewan Wheat Pool acquired Agricore United (eventually changing its name to Viterra) in 2007, there were no efforts made to talk to the new owners to see what it would take to retain all or parts of Agricore United's head office, which eventually migrated to Regina and Calgary.

"That's what Yes! Winnipeg can do for us now," said the former board member, who asked that his name not be used.

With the growing economic activity in the city and the increasing volume of assets the organization has to work with through its Tourism Winnipeg division -- EDW is the city's official destination marketing organization -- there is more at stake and more competition with other cities.

"Cities are complex ecosystems," James said. "The strategic criteria to retain and attract talent and investment has become highly refined."

James said the organization is getting ready to ramp up marketing efforts around the Winnipeg Convention Centre expansion -- a three-storey addition will add another 340,000 square feet to the 492,000-square-foot facility -- which will mean the city can bid on more and larger conventions.

"It allows us to be more competitive, which we have not been of late," she said.

In addition to the expanded convention centre that's scheduled to be ready by 2016, there is plenty of preparation to make sure the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is fully leveraged as a city attraction.

For a couple of years, EDW has been working to figure out ways for the city to broaden the museum's reach.

Those efforts will be manifested this week in a meeting of senior officials from the universities and provincial Education Department. Co-chaired by Art Mauro and Tom Axworthy, it will start the discussion about how to position Winnipeg as a city of human-rights education.

Angela Cassie, spokeswoman for the CMHR, said there's an acknowledgment that with the museum's arrival, human-rights education may be one of those synergies that can help put Winnipeg on the map for years to come.

"When we look more broadly there is a reason the museum is in Winnipeg," Cassie said, pointing out the bachelor of arts in human rights at the University of Winnipeg and the master's degree in peace and conflict studies at the University of Manitoba.

The meetings this week, organized by EDW, will start formulating a plan to exploit those synergies.

"So when people are thinking -- anywhere in Canada and internationally -- where do they want to go to study and bring their human rights education conference, we want that answer be Winnipeg, Manitoba," Cassie said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 A10

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Updated on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 6:42 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds fact box

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