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Tough task ahead for World Trade Centre Winnipeg

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There was a lot of time and effort expended by a number of people to secure a Winnipeg licence in the World Trade Centres Association.

Now, what to do with it?

The membership cost of $250,000 was split between the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and ANIM (Manitoba's bilingual trade agency).

ANIM's half was donated by the National Bank of Canada in exchange for the National Bank's inclusion in any banking visits that visiting delegates from other WTCs might request.

As a commercial trade organization that's not part of any government infrastructure, it needs to drum up fee-for-service business to be able to afford to exist. (It currently receives operating funding from the province.)

As a potential vehicle to promote the city to business people connected to WTCs around there world -- there are 330 of them in 90 countries -- it can be an important asset for the city.

Mariette Mulaire, CEO of World Trade Centre Winnipeg -- and the former head of ANIM, which has morphed into WTC -- understands she has a challenging task ahead.

Not only does she need to explain to her potential constituents what the WTC is, she has to market Winnipeg to the other WTCs around the world.

She spoke to about 300 people at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday to spread that message. Afterwards, she said, "There were people coming up to me and my staff saying that now they understand a bit better."

Mulaire, a singularly energetic global ambassador for the city, was the brains (and braun, for that matter) behind the Centrallia events in 2010 and 2012. In a way, those private sector international trade match-making events were a precursor to the World Trade Centre.

The key qualifier there is "trade."

"The WTC is the only organization with trade as primary mandate," she said. "CentrePort does its thing, Yes Winnipeg! does its thing with investment. Who is in charge of trade at the private sector level?"

Among other things, WTC Winnipeg needs to attract trade missions from other WTCs (the Winnipeg centre will charge a fee for putting together meetings and connections with potential trade partners in Winnipeg).

Since Winnipeg is not the most obvious trade destination for everyone, that's going to require ongoing efforts.

But it will also help local firms by linking them up with potential partners elsewhere.

Solara Remote Data Delivery Inc. represents the classic scenario of a company that can benefit from WTC services. Winnipeg-based Solara makes compact, durable portable communications devices engineered for use in the most remote, extreme environments anywhere.

Tom Tessier, CEO and founder of Solara, said his potential customers are all over the world, in particular in places where the communications infrastructure is not well developed.

"The WTC was excellent in helping me make connections in Algeria and Turkey, and we are working on Brazil," he said.

Solara is a small company with only five employees, so Tessier does not have resources in-house to do international market development.

"The big businesses don't need us," Mulaire said. "They have their own staff and connections. We are finding our niche, finding our place."

Just as important for WTC Winnipeg is to establish an actual bricks and mortar place.

The New York-based WTC Association bills itself as "an 'international ecosystem' of global connections, iconic properties, and integrated trade services under the umbrella of a prestigious brand."

A big part of that is "WTC branded properties."

"The idea is that the WTC building says to people 'we are international,' " Mulaire said.

She said they are looking to identify a prominent building that would be easy for people to get to and a place where you might find other organizations involved in international trade.

She said for budget reasons it is not likely it will be in one of the new downtown developments being contemplated unless she can convince a developer of the value of the WTC brand.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2013 B7

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