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This article was published 5/12/2018 (652 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Restructuring provincial departments as they relate to economic development, outsourcing some government functions to third party agencies and the identification of priorities from which to develop action plans will be part of a new economic development framework that Premier Brian Pallister is unveiling today.
The new framework document that was about a year in the making and included intense consultations with the business community will serve as the focal point of a long sought-after comprehensive economic development strategy for the province.
The task force, that assembled inputs from about 500 people in the business community, was co-chaired by Dave Angus, president of Johnston Group Inc. and the former president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and Barb Gamey, CEO and co-founder of Payworks.
In a conversation on Wednesday morning, Angus discussed the goals and challenges of the process, (taking care not to upstage the Premier who is expected to announce at least a few initial actions the province plans to take emanating from the report in today's State of the Province speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce).
In an interview with the Free Press, Angus said, "I expect the Premier will (announce some things) that they want to do right now. It is not the end. It is the starting point."
Producing a framework document that was informed by input from business and community leaders from across the province was seen as the next step that had to be taken after a technical report by Deloitte was delivered to the province in March.
Among other things, the Deloitte report stated, "The current backdrop of uncoordinated economic development programs and initiatives is best explained by the government's lack of an overarching, integrated economic development strategy."
Angus would not disclose what specific actions are about to be taken, but said the clear message he and Gamey heard from the business community is that they want and need to be more involved in setting the economic development strategy.
"If I learned one thing through the process, is that everyone is ready to go," he said. "They want to be part of something that is collective, not ad hoc."
And he believes the document grounds the government in what the business community collectively is saying are their needs.
'There has not been any guiding document to know how to make decisions. I have been involved in lots of them (industry organizations). They operate in a vacuum... The restructuring (of government operations) and having this framework will give much better direction' — Dave Angus, president of Johnston Group Inc.
"That is important," he said. "It is important for them to know that when they make a decision it is something that has come from broad consultations as opposed to isolated within (government) departments. That has been an historical problem. The lack of engagement has been a problem."
Among the recommendations will be some mechanism to form and/or enhance existing sector organizations that will have government officials and post-secondary officials at the table at all times.
"What we have recommended is that we develop very clear specific sector strategies," Angus said.
In addition, Angus said the report will include the recommendation that the province use outside agencies as the delivery agents of programs.
"We need better insight within government around economic development policy that is informed by strong engagement with industry and use those third party agencies to provide that insight," he said.
Angus said the report will cite the need for more long-term funding commitments with long-term strategies for economic development agencies so they can make better decisions with funding certainty.
"That is what they need to go out and make a difference," he said.
Another thing that Angus said he learned from the process is that "economic development is complicated." Maybe it's even harder when the economy to be developed is as diversified as Manitoba's.
While there are some sectors obviously larger than others like manufacturing and agri-food, the framework does not make any attempt to pick winners say among those or information and communications technologies, life sciences, tourism, mining, aerospace, creative industries, tourism or any other sector.
For instance, Angus said, "Who would have imagined cannabis and cryptocurrencies as opportunities for Manitoba even as recently as a couple of years ago."
From listening to Angus it seems that the restructuring that will be undertaken has the goal of allowing the province to take a more holistic approach to economic development.
Notwithstanding trade secrets and competitive confidentiality, no one really knew what anyone else was doing. Issues like the alignment between industry and post-secondary institutions in terms of skills development or dealing with duplication of services were never clear.
"There has not been any guiding document to know how to make decisions," Angus said. "I have been involved in lots of them (industry organizations). They operate in a vacuum. They do what their stakeholders say but they don't know if there is someone else doing the same thing. The restructuring (of government operations) and having this framework will give much better direction."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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