Diane Gray -- one of the most powerful public servants in Manitoba who helped negotiate the development of CentrePort Canada Inc., -- will be named as its first president and chief executive officer in an announcement this afternoon.
In addition to being the province's first female deputy finance minister, Gray also serves as the deputy in the departments of federal/provincial relations and trade.
Kerry Hawkins, co-chairman of the CentrePort board of directors, said the search for a CEO took more than two months but when Gray's name emerged, it was like the job was a perfect fit.
He said they needed a CEO who could work with government and the private sector to get the port going, and find overseas markets.
"She's been there and has been doing all of those things already," Hawkins said.
CentrePort Canada was created by the province in 2008. The idea is to have a corporation in place to turn 20,000 acres of land around the Richardson International Airport into a hub for the manufacture, distribution and warehousing of goods in North America.
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Dave Angus said it is a critical economic opportunity for Winnipeg and one that will make the city attractive for business investment.
"But there is a lot of work to be done and we needed the right person at the helm," he said.
Angus said he has no doubt Gray is that person: "She is the perfect choice."
He said the business community respects her experience in government and leadership skills.
Gray's mission will be to take the concept of CentrePort and turn it into a reality, including the infrastructure issues, land planning, business investment and government regulations and requirements.
Hawkins said her hiring will put the Port into gear.
"Without a CEO we are pretty much rudderless," he said. "We've been getting so many inquiries but we had to put them off because we weren't ready."
He said the corporation will sign a new lease on office space at the Winnipeg Airport Authority building this week.
On Wednesday, Gray told colleagues her new position will begin Nov. 9.
Gray was involved in CentrePort's development from the ground floor.
Premier Gary Doer, who has worked with Gray for nearly a decade, said she was instrumental in working with the three levels of government and private sector to get the concept off the ground.
"I've promoted her two or three times," he said. "If she could be promoted any higher (than deputy minister) I would have done that too."
Doer said an inland port in Winnipeg will help bring value-added jobs in manufacturing and distribution to the city to complement the existing strengths in the transportation sector.
"We have all the natural advantages here but we haven't taken advantage of them," he said.
Last spring, the federal and provincial governments committed $212 million for a four-lane freeway to connect the Winnipeg airport and the CentrePort land with Inkster Boulevard and the Perimeter Highway.