Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Job-seekers catch another break

MCI to hire 173, grain firm sets up North American hub

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Amid the global doom and gloom, it was another day of more jobs for Manitoba, capping off a week when the province was moving into the economic fast lane.

Within minutes of each other Friday morning, Motor Coach Industries announced intentions to hire 173 workers at its Winnipeg plant and a Brazilian company declared its plans to start its first Canadian operations in the Manitoba capital, a move that will require six or seven employees.

The announcements come on the heels of Wednesday's news Ikea is looking to hire 300 to 350 people before its highly anticipated store opening in November or December.

John McCallum, a finance professor at the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, called the announcements a "real boost for our economy."

After Ikea announced its hiring plans, McCallum said Manitobans "should cheer for more days like this."

"Amen," he said Friday. "We haven't had a few days like this in quite a while. Keep the good times rolling."

A rise in the popularity of group transportation, primarily in the U.S., has convinced MCI to increase the number of buses it makes on its assembly lines every day, said Pat Plodzeen, PR representative for the company.

"It's due to a brighter marketplace. A good portion (of our customers) are buying because they want to replace older models with newer ones that feature clean diesel-engine technologies," he said.

"Even (sales of) pre-owned coaches are doing well right now. It's a very robust marketplace."

MCI is the North American leader in building long-haul buses but its commuter-bus division is also seeing a rise in demand. The American Public Transit Association says Americans took 2.7 billion bus trips to work, the mall or the doctor's office during the first three months of the year, up five per cent from the same period a year ago.

Brazil-based Motomco, a manufacturer of grain quality-control products, announced during a provincial trade mission to Sao Paulo on Friday it will christen its Winnipeg operations in St. James this summer. Its employees will offer sales and service for its products, which measure moisture content in grain.

A few more weeks like this and the province's unemployment picture will be considerably rosier than it has been for the past year. The Manitoba economy lost 400 jobs from May 2011 to May 2012, Statistics Canada says. Despite the loss, the province still has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 5.1 per cent, trailing only Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Premier Greg Selinger, who was attending the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil Friday, said the recent spate of new job opportunities in Manitoba is very good news.

"I have met with MCI people a couple of times and they have been working very hard on restructuring with more efficient ways of developing (the) product," he said.

"It is a very positive story. I'm actually very pleased they are moving on that as quickly as they are."

He said more opportunities for people to make a living in Manitoba is a good thing.

"Manitoba has a low unemployment rate and a high participation rate -- about 70 per cent of the workforce is working and that's why we want more people in Manitoba to expand these things," Selinger said.

The jobs at MCI are particularly welcome because Manitoba's manufacturing sector has been struggling for the past two years, McCallum said.

"The attraction of those jobs is a lot of it is driven by manufacturing for export. You're making something that somebody somewhere else wants. (Those jobs) tend to be well-paying with good benefits and decent security," he said.

McCallum dismissed critics who minimize the importance of Ikea's hiring plans as the furniture-making giant will hire for positions across the entire spectrum, including management, information technology and design.

"Some will be higher-end than others but the path for anybody begins with a job that begins somewhere. Getting in is so important," he said.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 A3

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