Economic Development Winnipeg president and chief executive officer Dayna Spiring says city councillors need to be better ambassadors for Winnipeg.
Spiring, who was making her first appearance at a council committee, told councillors Monday morning Winnipeg is similar to many other regional cities across the country, but those centres are doing a better job of telling the world of their successes.
"I want you to be ambassadors," Spiring told councillors on the innovation and economic development committee. "I want you to tell the story of what’s happening here… We’re not dissimilar from other major Canadian cities. They have issues, too. They do a better job of telling the story."
Spiring used her appearance to give the councillors what she called "EDW 101," explaining the role of the agency and that of its offshoots, Tourism Winnipeg and YES! Winnipeg.
Economic Development Winnipeg is the city’s economic development agency, focused on promoting tourism (through Tourism Winnipeg) and attracting new business (Yes! Winnipeg).
According to the agency’s 2018 annual report, city hall contributed 61.3 per cent ($3.8 million) of its $6.2-million annual budget; the province contributed 17.7 per cent ($1.1 million); and private-sector contributions and partnerships account for 19.3 per cent ($1.2 million).
"I’ve said many times there are great business that are having huge success on the global stage from Winnipeg and we don’t talk about them, we don’t know about them," Spiring said, citing materials packaging firm Winpak Ltd., Canada Life Assurance Co. (formerly Great-West Life) and Price Industries Ltd.
"Gerry Price (CEO and chairman of Price Industries) has literally written the textbook on HVAC. He was hand-picked by (late Apple CEO) Steve Jobs to do the HVAC work in Apple’s (US$5-billion) Cupertino (Calif.) headquarters campus," she said.
"Those are stories that we would do ourselves a service to talk about more often and really understand some of the successes that are (happening) here."
Spiring acknowledged EDW was criticized for its role in organizing the Whiteout street parties two years ago, when the Winnipeg Jets made the NHL playoffs. She said EDW didn’t look at the street parties as a way to promote the hockey team but as an opportunity to showcase the city.
"This is a cosmopolitan city with great world-class attractions, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, like Assiniboine Park. And we have a community where you’ll see 20,000 people come together in a respectful way, dressed in white, cheering on their hockey team and their city. That was the message I wanted to get out across North America, and we were incredibly successful at that."
Similarly, there were a lot of questions when EDW put in a bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. The move was an investment, she said.
"I’m not certain if Winnipeg ever actually had a chance of getting Amazon HQ2 headquarters, but what we were able to get is another Amazon company (Amazon Web Services Thinkbox opened in April) that is here now," Spiring said. "We have one small Amazon office here now that we did not have before we put that bid together, and we’re continuing to have discussions with Amazon on various opportunities, including distribution."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.