Feds spread $22.7M among 16 firms to spur innovation

First-of-its-kind virtual media production-training studio expected ‘to have a big impact on the future of Manitoba jobs’


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Tamara Abas yearns to help Manitobans build worlds.

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Tamara Abas yearns to help Manitobans build worlds.

She stood in 201 Portage on Friday, a floor above her future workplace, surrounded by innovators.

Representatives from 16 organizations gathered in the Portage and Main skyscraper for a news conference. Federal PrariesCan Minister Dan Vandal took the podium, announcing more than $22.7 million in funding to the organizations’ projects.

Dan Vandal, minister for PrairiesCan, announces more than $22.7 million in federal funding to 16 projects across the province. (Winnipeg Free Press)

“The possibilities are endless for what students can explore, and the jobs that are going to be available,” Abas said, beaming.

She’ll lead training in StudioLab xR, New Media Manitoba’s roughly 5,500-sq.-ft. virtual production studio.

Consider shows like The Mandalorian, Abas said — a mix of reality and digital brought the Star Wars saga to life.

Creations like that will be possible in the new hub, set to open next spring, Abas said. She’s been making curriculum, to train students and industry professionals, alongside Fortnite creator Epic Games, she said.

“We want the facility to be bustling,” noted Louie Ghiz, New Media Manitoba’s executive director.

The $2.03 million from Ottawa, announced Friday, joins $1.5 million the province is putting towards StudioLab xR.

Money is being funnelled to the studio’s — and the province’s first — LED wall and camera tracking system, among other things.

Established programmers, game developers and technology creators will be among Abas’s pupils, as will high school and post-secondary students.

“The LED wall shows everything,” Ghiz said, explaining you could throw a visual of the Eiffel Tower up and it would look “completely real.”

Cameras will send real-time information to a computer, where students can use Unreal Engine, a software program, to blend fantasy and reality. Fortnite, The Mandalorian and Westworld are among the products to involve Unreal Engine.

“I can’t wait to see what our community builds in the next five to 10 years,” Abas said.

The site will be primarily for training; it’s the first of its kind in the Prairies, Ghiz said. Smaller commercial shoots might use some studio time.

“We’re looking forward to attracting some excellent talent,” Ghiz said. “We really think it’s going to have a big impact on the future of Manitoba jobs.”

Philip Ferguson visited 201 Portage on behalf of the University of Manitoba.

A new drone-testing facility is netting roughly $2.1 million of the federal funding.

“They’re ubiquitous,” Ferguson, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, said of drones. “I mean, they’re showing up in many different industries right now.”

The 3,000-sq.-ft. warehouse will allow for development of new drone technology in agriculture and aerospace sectors, and for research on drone inspection capacity, Ferguson said.

Motion tracking cameras will outfit the building.

“It allows us to (test) safely, so that we don’t risk damaging public infrastructure with new technology as we work out the kinks,” Ferguson said.

Drones monitor power lines in remote parts of Manitoba and act as simulation testbeds for satellites, Ferguson said. They can track construction sites, inspect bridges and assist in space research, he added.

The facility, near Winnipeg’s airport, cost approximately $4.4 million, according to Ferguson.

“A project of this scale needs assistance from the government,” he said, adding the University of Manitoba and Aurora Aerial contributed at least $2.2 million.

First flights should begin before Christmas, Ferguson said.

The 16 projects are expected to create 850 new jobs, including 187 needing “highly qualified” workers, Vandal said. PrairiesCan, the economic development branch he heads, is administering the funding.

“We have more jobs today than we did pre-pandemic, a significant amount more jobs, and yet there’s a labour shortage,” Vandal noted.

He highlighted government partnerships with businesses, unions and post-secondaries, and Ottawa’s commitment to increase immigration numbers, when asked about how the newly announced jobs would be filled.

The $400,000 loan Emerge Knowledge Design received from the feds — and part of Friday’s announcement — is partially spent on increasing staff as the company expands its services, according to Rick Penner, the company’s president.

The tech business tracks landfill and recycling industry data, which it shares with its clients (many of whom are United States governments).

“The transition to a circular economy is a critical environmental and economic and social priority,” Penner said. “You need data, you need access to what’s going on, so that you can make better decisions.”

Red River College Polytechnic, Gryd and Cerebra Health are among the entities to receive federal funding.

Ottawa estimates the 16 projects will spur more than $200 million in revenue growth and $130 million in export sales, Vandal said.


Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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