Canadian Tire will locate its new "digital hub" in downtown Winnipeg, bringing with it 50 new-tech jobs and the task of making the national retailer a virtual store.
Helping Canadian Tire in its decision is the recently expanded provincial Data Processing Tax Credit worth a one-time $900,000 to $1 million, based on a minimum $10-million investment, and $300,000 worth of incentives from the City of Winnipeg.
Canadian Tire calls it a "cloud computing centre" and it will mean banks of computer servers will be installed on the second floor of the Air Canada building on Portage Avenue to back up the retailer's websites and applications, which will also be developed here.
The hardware to be installed required Manitoba Hydro to make sure its downtown grid was sufficient to supply the extra power to the new 20,000-square-foot centre.
The company's chief technology officer, Eugene Roman, said the centre will be one of the most advanced in North America and will be Canadian Tire's digital-content warehouse, an application lab and testing centre.
"It will serve as the core digital hub for the Canadian Tire family of companies," he said. Those companies include Mark's, FGL Sports, Partsource and Gas +.
"It will provide us with 20 times the computing power that we have across the whole corporation today on day 1 and 10 times more network firepower than we have across the corporation today on day 1," Roman said.
In practical terms, that computing power means customers browsing store products online at a store, at home or on a smartphone will get the information in real time, he added.
"The future of retail is digital, there's no question about it," Roman said. "A request will flow here and the information here will flow directly to the consumer. Every Canadian who is online, the information will be pulled from here on demand when they want it."
The centre will also work with Red River College and the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg to develop a co-op program for graduating students to get hands-on experience, Roman said.
The company's announcement brought out Premier Greg Selinger, Mayor Sam Katz and businessman Robert Herjavec of TV's Dragons' Den and more recently Shark Tank. Herjavec is friends with one of the Canadian Tire executives at the news conference, a company spokeswoman said.
"We all see the value in creating these new- media, high-tech jobs where our young people will have a chance to work right here in Manitoba doing cutting-edge things that will not only benefit our province but benefit the whole country through the Canadian Tire network," Selinger said.
Roman said while the company looked at several locations in the city, they picked the Air Canada building because it has the basic infrastructure for the national retailer to install the equipment it requires.
Roman would not comment on the amount the company is paying for the new centre.
Selinger would not comment directly on whether the tax credit was expanded to lure Canadian Tire to Winnipeg.
"There's competition all across the country," Selinger said. "We offer a very good package here."
The City of Winnipeg will provide up to $300,000 worth of economic incentives for the Canadian Tire centre, pending council approval, said property director Barry Thorgrimson.
Roman said the government incentives alone did not figure prominently in Canadian Tire's decision, as most jurisdictions offer them.
"We looked across Canada. We did a national search. Our conclusion was Winnipeg is the place to be," he said.
Roman would not comment on how many cities were in the running for the centre.
"We had lots of choices, but at the end of the day, we fell in love with Winnipeg. When you're doing something like this, you can put it anywhere, but you have to have the right people to work there and to be able to create the new ideas."
-- With files from Bartley Kives