Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Biggest business story of 2013 will surely be the long-awaited arrival of 'Tar-jay'

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If 2012 was the year of IKEA in Winnipeg, 2013 will be Target's turn to shake up the retail landscape. That may be as close as we'll get to a predictable game-changer. When it comes to the Manitoba economy, generally speaking the safe bet is to expect more of the same because that's the way the it works here, notwithstanding Yes! Winnipeg's dream of a blockbuster deal. The more likely pursuit would be betting which of the province's diverse economic sectors will spike and which ones will subside. Will the agricultural sector get sexy? Is aerospace coming back down to earth? Here's a few of the stories we're likely to follow in 2013 and a few we hope to see.

 

But where will we park?

The hoarding is already up around the massive surface parking lot south of the Winnipeg Convention Centre for its long-expected expansion. Rumours of a mixed-use project for the old Winnipeg Tribune site -- and current parking lot -- on Graham Avenue persist. Lakeview Hotels continue to threaten to build a hotel on another surface lot adjacent to the convention centre. Next year will mark the start of the next phase of the densification of Winnipeg's downtown. The question is, what are we going to do without all that choice downtown parking?

 

Let's hope it's a bridge to somewhere

The commitment to develop CentrePort and build a $200-million highway through the northwest corner of the city is arguably among of the riskiest public-sector initiatives of the last decade. The new highway was built on the carefully calibrated calculation that if you built it, they will come. There may be too many trucks on Inkster Boulevard, but that's not why an entirely new roadway was created. It is in anticipation of a whole new region of industrial development. CentrePort has always marketed itself as a multi-decade initiative. The natives will start to get restive, however, if there's nothing more in 2013 than some new tenants in pre-existing industrial parks. Here's hoping CentrePort receives the gift of sewer and water in 2013.

 

Grand Forks will suffer

Winnipeg shoppers will be in their own version of heaven by the end of 2013 when it is likely there will be at least a couple of Target stores open at former Zellers locations. (A mega-store proposed for a portion of the current Canad Inns Stadium site probably won't be done next year.) The iconic Minneapolis chain that entices the middle-class heartland with the promise of attainable designer beauty is almost as beloved by Winnipeg shoppers as the IKEA brand. Target's arrival next year may prompt a slight recession in Grand Forks -- easily one of the top 10 reasons for Winnipeggers to make the two-hour trek -- but it may also be the death knell of less spiffy local operators.

 

Angels over Winnipeg

The Winnipeg business community complains about the lack of investment capital like the general population complains about the weather. It's never-ending, and lord knows, there's plenty to gripe about. As tough as the winter weather is, access to capital is just as bad in these parts. Angel investors from Alberta have started to spread some oilpatch dollars around, but more is needed. Discussions on several fronts will be ongoing in the coming year. Here's hoping 2013 will be the year the ghost of the Crocus fund is vanquished and a Manitoba-focused fund gets established.

 

Turning tractors into gold

Despite efforts in Manitoba to take a run at the latest global business trends -- from call centres to Internet pharmacies to biotech -- it's the old standbys such as agricultural equipment manufacturers that seem to have the staying power. The future is bright for MacDon Industries, makers of self-propelled swathers and other ag implements, which already employs about the same number of workers as Boeing, its neighbour down the street. Buhler Industries keeps growing and intends to seriously start marketing its Russian owners' Russian-built combines in North America this year. Ag Growth Industries makes the equipment needed to manage increasingly large farms. Weather permitting, 2013 is expected to be a good year for that group.

 

Shaken and sterile

No matter how great your latest mousetrap is, your potential customers will probably take some prodding to adopt it -- especially if it costs $1 million. The Winnipeg company Intelligent Hospital Systems (IHS), makers of the Robotic IV Automation (RIVA) units, could be reaching that magical point of acceptance this coming year. Late last year, it received an important third-party endorsement as the best product on the market. A recent wave of infectious disease borne by outsourced IV-bag preparations in the U.S. has heightened demand by hospitals to find a more efficient and sterile way to prepare the medications. More and more of them are deciding RIVA is the answer. IHS is a home-grown success story that may hit that elusive home run in 2013.

 

What colour is that elephant now?

When the National Research Council built its Ellice Avenue facility in the late '80s, it was mocked for some time as a white elephant that was not nearly busy enough. But by the middle of the last decade, it was jam-packed, eventually producing an enviable track record of technologies that were spun out into life-saving medical technologies. But in its twisted wisdom, Ottawa has decided to divest itself of the real estate -- and about half the scientists on staff in Winnipeg. The fate of that substantial chunk of the city's scientific infrastructure will be determined this coming year. It could shape the future of the sector for some time to come.

 

New kid on the block

In 2012, one of the four pillars underpinning the province's aerospace industry -- Aveos Fleet Management (formerly Air Canada Technical Services) -- shut its doors. The hangar that handled much of Air Canada's heavy maintenance on its narrow-body fleet in now dark. If Ottawa chooses not to buy the expensive new F-35 fighter jets, another one of those mainstays, Winnipeg's Bristol Aerospace, may find $1 billion worth of potential parts orders compromised. The other two big boys in the sector -- StandardAero and Boeing -- still look good. Exchange Income Corp., owners of Calm Air, Perimeter Aviation, Keewatin Air and Bearskin Lake Air Service, is poised to pick up the slack. It will be opening its own heavy-maintenance hangar at the southeast corner of the airport campus in 2013.

 

Phoenix rising on Lake Winnipeg

Lakeview Management will be the latest hotelier to take a crack at turning a profit at the Hecla Resort this year. For the second time in a row, it has changed hands, with the new owners paying only a fraction of the millions of dollars that have been sunk into the Interlake resort over the last decade. After languishing in receivership for the past two years, Lakeview is charging ahead with a late-spring opening in 2013. If anyone knows how to run such a property, it's Lakeview. It has a track record of success at its Gimli hotel and owns 22 other properties against which it can leverage costs such as reservations and marketing. It could be a good year for Hecla.

 

Still True North?

The new year will start with the existence of the 2012-13 NHL season still in doubt. Mark Chipman and his team produced an all-star performance getting the Winnipeg Jets enterprise together on short notice through the summer of 2011. Then they had a dream first year with the help of incredible fan support and an insatiable demand for anything Jets-related. It's not likely that Winnipeg fans will abandon the team when or if the labour dispute is settled. But it may take another top notch marshalling of resources for the business to fly as high as it did the first year.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 B6

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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

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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