Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Earlier this week, Site Selection magazine put out an issue on the 20 regional economic development groups representing Canada’s best locations.
Winnipeg was on the list. If there are 20 places that Site Selection thought were better places to do business than Winnipeg, then that would have been a big story.
Twenty-five years ago when the city’s image and its business community was suffering a crisis of identity — at that time the city was dealing with the ignominy of losing a big league sport franchise — there was a realization that people in the city had to start getting the word out on just how great a place Winnipeg was for doing business.
For some number of years since, Winnipeg companies started appearing on more lists of the largest, fastest-growing, most-improved, best-managed companies.
Winnipeg has consistently ranked near the top of KPMG’s competitive alternatives lists that scores cities on business costs.
Yes, there are many of those kind of lists out there, but more broadly, the point of getting more Winnipeg mentions is to build a perception that there are good things going on in the city, as most people who live here would attest to.
Applying for inclusion on those lists takes time and effort and may be seen of questionable value for some considering the time it takes to be included.
A recent list that came out called Best Workplaces in Canada, with 150 companies split into three categories: more than 1,000 employees, 100 to 999 employees, and less than 100.
Online Business Systems was the only company from Manitoba on the entire list. In fact, Online has been on the list for 14 years straight.
People will say those lists are a function of the company’s predisposition to take the time and pay the fee to enter the program.
But these lists are widely disseminated and the less people see Winnipeg mentions among the expected concentration of companies from the Greater Toronto Area, Vancouver and Montreal, the more they will be inclined to hold on to whatever negative stereotypes they may have about this city.
Ria Neuendorff, the chief people officer at Online, said the company is particularly engaged with the Best Workplaces program, because it puts most of the emphasis on the ranking on what its employees say about the company.
Online has been around for about 35 years. It was one of the original information technology consulting companies in the province helping companies "computerize" back in the early 1990s. It now refers to itself as a digital transformation and cybersecurity consultancy, with the latter practice only included in recent years as data security issues became something that even the smallest of companies had to start addressing.
It has grown over the years and has about 350 employees including about 70 in the U.S. and has had functioning offices in various cities over time. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, companies like Online had become good at functioning with a certain number of their employees working remotely.
Online’s founder, Chuck Loewen, continues to run the company along with original partner and chief technology officer, Tim Siemens.
Online does not develop proprietary software or software-as-a-service, but provides one-on-one consulting for clients — effectively customized solutions for all its clients.
Neuendorff says it is surprising how many people have been with the company for 15, 20 and 25 years in a sector that has become famous for the kind of job mobility its skilled practitioners enjoy.
But she said that there are always people who join the company who find that the constant change from client to client is not to their liking.
The company has a successful career mentoring system so even if a consultant is entrenched remotely in a client site there is always Online collaborators and support available. Neuendorff said one of the most popular employee benefits is a self-directed professional development budget that ranges from $1,500-$5,000, and from 40-to-80 hours annually.
Many other Manitoba companies have great support and professional development services for their people, just as there are many Manitoba companies who are conscientious and proud of their community involvement, as is Online.
Online is probably as guilty as the community at large in not blowing its own horn enough, but at least its efforts have allowed the word "Winnipeg" to be included among a list of 150 other companies from across the country.
In aggregate, if more companies made the effort to get on those lists, it could raise the profile of the city and effectively become another feature of a company’s "community involvement."
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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