Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Why must we buy our good news?

Canadian Tire's jobs carry price tag of $24,000 each

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If your glass of ice-cold Red River water is perpetually half full, the announcement of 50 new high-tech jobs coming to the heart of downtown is exciting enough to make you actually drink the murky stuff.

But if your glass is half empty, the sobering notion each one of those gigs comes with $24,000 worth of government incentives may drive you to consider quaffing something a little stronger.

On Thursday, Canadian Tire announced it will create 50 new jobs in Winnipeg when it opens up a "cloud computing centre" in the Air Canada building on Portage Avenue. The positions in question are precisely the sort of jobs this city and province absolutely must create in order to retain young, creative workers.

The knock against Winnipeg over the past few decades is its economy just hasn't offered enough in the way of opportunity to recent university graduates with the ambition to work at the razor's edge of their respective fields.

The belief, sometimes but not always borne out by statistics, is that young, university-educated Winnipeggers are more likely to flee this city than their counterparts in, say, Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary, where there are more cutting-edge jobs due to the presence of corporate headquarters, the film business and the oil industry, respectively.

Of course, not all the jobs younger workers find involve new technology. This notion, popularized by fetishistic business-press coverage of high-tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, portrays all 20-something workers (and even those in their 30s) as spoiled little babies who want espresso machines on every floor, a row of vintage video games against every wall and office hours so flexible no boss will ever care when they come and go.

In reality, most young people just want a job that pays well, keeps them interested and simply does not suck. So, if you're a Winnipeg university graduate who happens to be one of the 50 people qualified to work in Canadian Tire's new "advanced cloud computing centre," you may just be able to stick around the Manitoba capital long enough to complain about a few more winters and the lack of Canadian Football League championships.

The price of this centre to the public purse, as revealed on Thursday at a press conference, is at least $1.2 million in government incentives.

That includes $900,000 to $1 million worth of provincial tax incentives that will allow Canadian Tire to purchase equipment, provided Canadian Tire makes a minimum $10-million investment, Premier Greg Selinger said.

It also includes up to $300,000 from the city as part of what Winnipeg property director Barry Thorgrimson described as an "economic development incentive package" that will be presented to city council later this month.

That works out to $24,000 in government spending for each of the 50 jobs, though more may follow if the Canadian Tire venture is successful.

It's not clear how much of those incentives will be recouped in the form of business and property taxes that will be levied against the new high-technology office. The city package, as yet unveiled to the public, may simply involve tax breaks.

Downtown will also benefit by filling up 28,000 square feet of vacant office space with people who should have more earning and purchasing power than call-centre employees.

Nonetheless, it's still hard to escape the unfortunate message: Every nice thing we get in Winnipeg comes at the cost of a public subsidy.

Nonetheless, Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz are not concerned about the optics of this particular piece of public spending.

"Why would you, if you're getting this kind of investment and you're getting 50 quality jobs coming into our downtown?" Katz asked.

Selinger said the new centre will add to a critical mass of new-media business in Winnipeg. "The new-media sector has been doing very well," he said. "The products we're creating here have the ability to attract investment."

That may very well be true. But this city will only be considered a success story when it can attract investment without spending cash to bring it here.

You know what's even better than 50 interesting jobs? A day when a great, new business can set up shop in Winnipeg without making the mayor and premier feel compelled to attend the press conference.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 A4

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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