In in his first public address as chairman of CentrePort Canada, Kerry Hawkins characterized the potential scale of development surrounding the inland port as being unprecedented for Winnipeg.
"Thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, that is the course we are on," Hawkins told a sold-out event in Winnipeg Thursday morning.
Although the 20,000 acres of land north and west of the airport is a blank slate waiting for development, Hawkins said that 40 years ago the area around the Huntsville, Ala., airport was in a similar state.
"Now there are 24,000 people employed, with payrolls of $1.1 billion (at the Port of Huntsville) and it all started as a cotton field," he said. "That's what we're talking about."
Hawkins said the search for a CEO is underway and likely to last into the summer.
In the meantime CentrePort has leased office space it will soon move into.
The creation of CentrePort, followed by federal and provincial government commitments of $212 million for the creation of a four-lane freeway that will connect the airport and the CentrePort lands with Inkster Boulevard and the Perimeter Highway, has made the project a reality.
Hawkins compared the process to the birth of a baby.
"It's not yet six months old and there is much more to do," he said. "But the creation of Canada's first inland port will have a big impact for generations to come."
While public sector infrastructure investment has kick-started the undertaking, much of the future development is going to depend on private-sector investment.
Hawkins said activities foreseen for CentrePort include intermodal operations, logistics, air cargo handling, light manufacturing, trucking operations and cargo storage facilities.