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Manitoba’s economy is only starting to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown, yet a poll shows 60 per cent of Winnipeggers remain somewhat or very optimistic about the city’s economic future.
Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) surveyed 600 Winnipeggers during the first week of June, just after the second phase of reopening took effect. The poll was conducted by Probe Research.
The same poll question in September 2019, before there was any sign of the coming pandemic, showed 68 per cent of Winnipeggers were optimistic. While the numbers might be surprising, the poll also shows the number of people very pessimistic has almost doubled, from six per cent in September to 11 per cent in June.
Dayna Spiring, the chief executive officer of EDW, said the optimism people are still expressing is something the community can leverage when it comes to marketing the city.
'We need to make sure we do everything we can during the pandemic to support the recovery'‐ Dayna Spiring, CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg
"We have an opportunity in front of us," she said. "Manitoba has done a phenomenal job planking the curve and now we are rewarded for that effort by being able to get out and support our economy in many cases faster than the rest of the country. We have earned it. Now, how do we capitalize on that?"
Not surprisingly the results of the survey on economic perspectives were generally less positive compared to the September 2019 responses, but the gap was not as wide as it could have been.
Only 29 per cent said they and their families are worse off now than they were a year ago, 23 per cent think they will be better off a year from now compared to 27 per cent who thought so in September and 85 per cent said they were satisfied with their jobs compared to 81 per cent who felt that way last fall.
Since the survey was taken in early June in the midst of the second phase of the provincial recovery, the employment situation of many respondents was still up in the air.
Sixty-six per cent said they were employed either full or part-time compared to 76 per cent last year and 34 per cent said they were unemployed or retired, compared to 24 per cent who were in that situation last year.
Scott MacKay, the CEO of Probe, said his firm is used to seeing only marginal movement in the responses from Manitobans about their perception of the economy from quarter to quarter, having done similar surveys for different clients over the years.
"The movement here is interesting," he said. "What is a bit surprising is that the numbers aren’t worse. Optimism about the city and the economy in general is about 60 per cent. That is a nice, big, respectable number given the situation we are in right now."
But having said that, the number of people who are very pessimistic is much higher.
"That is a warning sign for us," Spiring said. "We need to make sure we do everything we can during the pandemic to support the recovery and to support our businesses to get us to the next stage. But it does not surprise me. We are in the middle of something that is totally without precedence and totally unknown."
But Spiring is keen to leverage the advantage Manitoba has over other provinces with its low rate of infection allowing Phase 3 of the reopening of the economy to take place.
"We are singing those praises everywhere," she said. "On the tourism side — which is a very significant driver of the economy — we are able to get people out to restaurants and bars and to our attractions."
She believes the positive response the province has shown in the pandemic can become an attractive message to potential investors.
"I think we have missed some opportunities to talk about how well Manitoba has done in planking the curve," she said.
She said many of the city’s largest employers have been able to continue operating uninterrupted and have done so with creativity and entrepreneurial spirit and with no infections among their workforces.
"When we go out now talking to companies who are considering where to re-locate or where they want to expand their business we’ll ask them: ‘do you want to expand in downtown Toronto or do you want to expand in Winnipeg?’ — There is an advantage here."
Probe Research surveyed a random sampling of 600 adults residing in Winnipeg between June 2 and June 11, 2020 and can say with 95 per cent certainty that the results are within four percentage points plus or minus what they would have been if the entire adult population of Winnipeg had been surveyed.
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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