David Noël: Hello and welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in our wonderful province. I’m David Noël.
Today’s guest is an entrepreneur of a different sort. Working as a manager for some large companies in the early 2000’s, he became tired of seeing Winnipeg treated as second-rate by his international colleagues and set out to do something about it. In this interview we discuss what sales and marketing can look like when the product is an entire city.
If you enjoy today’s episode, and I hope you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. Positive reviews will have a big impact on the success of the show, especially a brand new one like ours. Of course, please don’t be shy about sharing the show with your as well—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Without further ado, here is Bill Morrissey:
[to Bill] Bill thanks so much for coming on.
Bill Morrissey: It’s my pleasure.
David: It’s a treat. So, I guess before we get started, can you tell just a little about who you are and what your background is general?
Bill: Yeah, so, I am an individual who has spent almost all my life here in Winnipeg. I moved here with my family when I was just a kid. Through my career there has been a few occasions when I’ve moved out of Winnipeg but always with the intention of coming back.
So Winnipeg’s home. I went to school here, grew up here, played competitive sports here, and had a very rewarding business career here. I spent most of that career with Xerox, and for most of it as the general manager of Xerox’s operations here in this region. I spent time as part of the executive leadership team at Standard Arrow, worked at the Winnipeg Chamber of commerce, and then ended my full-time career as the co-founder and leader of Yes! Winnipeg.
David: Right. Okay. And so you’re semi-retired now, is what you were saying before we started?
Bill: That’s correct, yes. Very fortunate to be in a position where my wife and I can start to do some travel and just enjoy ourselves a bit – not that I didn’t enjoy myself before.
When I announced back at the end of last year that I was going to be stepping down as the leader of Yes! Winnipeg, I indicated that I had hoped to work half-time for the next couple of years, and roughly nine months of the year. And so very, very pleased that I’ve been offered and I’ve accepted a contract on those terms with the 2017 team Canada games. Winnipeg is hosting what will be the biggest Canada games ever in 2017 – Canada’s 150 birthday, and I am doing corporate and community development work with Jeff Hnatiuk and his team there at the Canada games.
David: Very cool. Okay. And you said you worked at the Winnipeg Chamber for a little while. Is that right?
David: And what was your role when you working with the Chamber? I know that that kind of morphed into the beginning of Yes! Winnipeg and we’ll get there, but what was your role at the Chamber when you started up?
Bill: You know what? I had a number of responsibilities under my title, but the main reason for me joining the Chamber, the main reason I was asked to join and I accepted to join, was really to complete the formation and the development of the Yes! Winnipeg initiative.
David: Okay. Impressive.
Bill: Yeah. That initiative was really conceived under the Winnipeg Chamber. I was part of a steering committee, as a volunteer I was part of a steering committee that, along with the Dave Angus – the president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber – that really brought the idea to fruition. When my circumstances at Standard Arrow changed I was offered a position by Dave, mostly to take what we had done to that point as a volunteer group and really turn it into reality.
My title was Senior Vice President of Membership, so I had the team at the Chamber that were responsible for revenue generation and events and so on and membership under me, but most of my time was really spent forming the Yes! Winnipeg initiative.
David: Got you. So Yes! Winnipeg already existed as a vision, and you were basically there filling it out along with the rest of the team at the Chamber?
Bill: Exactly. It was just that. It was a gleam in our eye, that twinkle in our eye, but not operational at that point. When I came on board, the board of the Chamber had reached to make the bold decision that they were going to launch this initiative, and I was brought on to really put all of the pieces together.
David: Okay. And so then staying around that time period, right at the beginning, you were working at Standard Arrow at the time and you joined this in a volunteer capacity, you joined this group working for the Yes! Winnipeg initiative, what made you think that was a worthwhile thing to do? Or what motivated you to get into that in the first place?
Bill: Well, interesting question. There are two things that I’ll mention. The first is I was actually at Xerox when I first reached out to Dave Angus, and the first reason was quite frankly a frustration that as the general manger of Xerox’s operations in this region I was frustrated that we weren’t seeing the kind of growth and development in Winnipeg’s private sector that rivaled other major cities in Canada.
I knew that, because in my work as the leader of this region for Xerox and in conversations and meeting with my counterparts in other cities, you couldn’t help but notice the kind of natural growth that was happening in those areas, and we weren’t seeing the same thing here.
David: Interesting. So you actually, by virtue of being inside a big company that was working in other regions you got this inside picture into the growth in other regions, and you were just – I assume – personally frustrated because that probably came with progression for managers of other regions, and there just wasn’t the same kind of growth here. Is that . . . ?
Bill: That’s correct. It began by me, after reaching a point where I just felt I could no longer go on without reaching out to Dave and starting some dialogue. It was just that I believed sincerely Winnipeg was a great place to build and base a business; that we had a very strong value proposition, and something wasn’t adding up. I was scratching my head as to why we were just trundling along as opposed to seeing nice growth. That was one of the reasons.
Now, the other reason that I contacted them is that I had just come off of a very successful volunteer engagement, charitable engagement, with an organization called Kid Sport. It’s charitable organization that raises money for underprivileged kids so that they can participate in sports. It’s the official charity of Sport Manitoba. And I had been asked by the president and CEO of Sport Manitoba if I would take on the chair role for that organization. And I accepted because sport is just so near and dear to me, and the impact that it has on young lives.
And long story short, over the course of three years with some great help by a number of my friends, we raised roughly a quarter of a million dollars from virtually a standing stop. And as corny as it sounds, it made me and all the rest of them really realize that if you put your mind to something, if the cause is right and you get the right people around you, anything is possible here in this great country and province and city.
And so, emboldened by this great success that we’d had with this charitable endeavor, and thinking that if we really put our minds to driving growth in our economy, why couldn’t we achieve similar things to what we’re . . . and so those were the reasons I reached out and on the one hand in my first meeting with Dave it was one of those sort of bitter-sweet events. Sweet to the extent that Dave acknowledged that coincidentally several other business leaders had contacted him within the previous several weeks with a very similar concern, and that he and the Chamber felt similarly frustrated. And so he was absolutely prepared to take action on it. So that was the sweet part.
The bitter part was that there was an acknowledgement that really, not the kinds of things going on by government at the various levels that were necessary to really generate, to help to stimulate the kind of private sector economic growth that was necessary. So ideally, what I would love to heard Dave say was “Yes, absolutely it is important and I’m happy to announce to you that I happen to know that at the federal provincial or municipal level that they get it too, and they are about to be launching some new programs.” Clearly didn’t hear that.
And again, as we got busy with the initiative as I mentioned earlier, the chamber, when it was clear that government was intending on taking any new action, the chamber made the very courageous and bold decision to actually address this themselves, and good on them. Full credit to them.
David: Absolutely. The more I look into it the more I realize we’ve got a pretty fantastic Chamber here in Winnipeg. Indeed, Angus is absolutely a visionary. Now, circling back a little bit, because I think this really interesting, this is the nugget of . . . it ended up being . . . it certainly consumed the next several years of your life: You said that when you were working at Xerox you were frustrated and you saw this potential in Winnipeg that other people didn’t see. Both other people within the region, and people outside the region. Some people would think that if you’re seeing something that no one else sees, you’re crazy. Why weren’t you crazy?
Bill: I think back on it all . . . Winnipeg is . . . we are either, when you think outside of our city and our province there’s either very little known about Winnipeg or what is known about it is largely inaccurate. It’s based on inaccurate information, and that, more than anything else, that needed to be addressed.
Just think of a business development if you will, inside of a company – a regular corporation. Imagine that you’ve got a product which by all accounts is a pretty darn good product – well made, addresses an important sort of . . . competitively positioned, and yet the rest of the world doesn’t know about, it or what they know about it is flawed. That probably more than anything, that’s what I saw. That’s what we saw.
David: But why did you think it was a good product though? If we think of Winnipeg as a product. I think it’s interesting that you thought of it that way, when not necessarily everyone else did.
Bill: I guess a couple of things: first of all, let’s think about, again if I can refer to it as a product, is it perfect? No, absolutely not. But is any jurisdiction, is any city, any region perfect? No, they’re not. For reasons that I still scratch my head about, Winnipeggers are sometimes their own worst enemy. They think that because we have foibles flaws or a wart or two, that nobody does and that we’re therefore second rate.
The fact is no place is perfect, and other people, in other jurisdiction, they’re still confident in their own strengths, even though they acknowledge that they have some. Unfortunately too often Winnipeggers see the flaws. They overlook the strengths, they see the flaws and that becomes their reality or personality. And those of us who have traveled elsewhere, who have done business elsewhere, who have lived elsewhere, really frankly understand that what we’ve got here is very, very good, very competitive. So it’s really that glass half-full or half-empty.
I absolutely see it as being half-full, and a lot of the other people that were involved in this initiative with us did as well. That’s probably the biggest thing. We’ve got reams of information and statistics that support that notion of it being a glass half-full, and that’s what we felt really needed to be expounded.
David: Okay. So then if you saw it as a glass half full, if I’m hearing you correctly there were two big things that you wanted to change, that needed to change as part of the Yes! Winnipeg initiative. One of them was an issue of changing perspectives or changing opinions about, changing perceptions probably, about Winnipeg as a place to do business – both within Winnipeg and beyond.
And then it sounds like there was a need for better cooperation in the governments at all three levels. Was there any other ingredient that seemed important to you or does that cover it?
Bill: I think that overall, the way we viewed it was: given the things that I just mentioned about not a lot known about us, or what was known wasn’t entirely accurate, there was this sense that therefore we needed to be doing more than most jurisdictions in order to generate success.
If you’re Toronto, if you’re Calgary, and most of the world already knows about you, and businesses outside of those areas are naturally drawn to you, well, you probably don’t have to work as hard at creating positive awareness as a jurisdiction like ours which is relatively little known and inaccurate.
So that was really what it really boiled to Dave, is that we needed more effort and a different kind of effort in order to mobilize, to stimulate private sector economic development here, and the entities that a jurisdiction typically looks to for that is government, okay?
When it was made clear to us that governments here at all levels weren’t intending to put forward any kind of additional effort, that’s when it was decided by the chamber that they, as the voice of the business community, really ought to step up and drive this forward. We’ll get into probably in more detail in a few minutes. The initiative definitely enjoys or enjoyed the support of government, but it was primarily funded and driven by the private sector.
David: I see. Okay. And so the initiative then didn’t actually, wasn’t necessarily interested in – beyond the partnership that existed at the beginning – wasn’t necessarily focused so much on lobbying government as it was changing perception about Winnipeg, and putting that effort that you spoke about to get the private sector engaged?
Bill: Yeah. It was all about action. It was an action initiative. It wasn’t about doing more analysis, doing more reports, doing more consulting studies. It started with the notion that the product as it exists is pretty darn good, it is absolutely competitive and saleable. What we have to start now is new action, more action to really create results.
David: So it was a marketing initiative.
Bill: The only thing I don’t like about the word “marketing,” is that too often people, when they think of marketing, they think of advertising and they think of websites and they think of . . . and that is a part of what we were identifying, but there’s a lot more that we felt was necessary and we didn’t want to have people misunderstanding by using the word marketing.
Quite frankly, when it was first conceived we called the initiative Selling Winnipeg to World, because I think that drove a clearer message that it is really, it’s selling. By selling, it’s getting eyeball to eyeball with business leaders to understand their plans for the future as it relates to business development, and being able to pitch face to face our strengths and convincing them to do that growth here. You know what I mean?
David: Yeah. Absolutely. So, then getting into the nuts and bolts, and we just started about it a little bit, and we’ll talk a little about how you raised funding for Yes! Winnipeg in a second because I think that’s interesting too. But getting into the nuts and bolts of what that organization did, just for a minute because I’m trying to understand the actual activities that happened, right? When you say “selling Winnipeg to the world,” that’s really interesting. What does the team at Yes! Winnipeg do today?
Bill: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, please keep remembering this idea of sales. Imagine yourself asking me as the, I don’t know, pick any company I guess . . . the director of sales at a car dealership. “What does your team do?” So think of it that way. So that’s what the team at Yes! Winnipeg did.
We were focused on creating jobs both by facilitating organic growth, that is local companies, helping them to actually grow and create new jobs here, and I’ll explain that in more detail, but also external growth. That is attracting companies here that may not have otherwise considered, or seriously considered Winnipeg regarding their new facilities.
So if I start with the organic growth first, what our team did was go out and visit. Every day we went out proactively and visited and visited with the leaders of Winnipeg’s leading companies to talk to them about their current status and future plans, and to determine if within those plans there was growth that would translate into jobs, and what would it take? What would need to happen in order for that to occur here and now?
We, through affiliations with a number of partner organizations, industry associations, et cetera, we utilized their reach to ensure that local entrepreneurs who might be considering starting a new business were aware of Yes! Winnipeg and that we were here to be able to assist them. If there was considerable jobs to be had by them launching a business, we were here to help. So that’s how we worked locally.
As far as the external, that is reaching out to leading non-Manitoba companies within our focus sectors. Again, the objective started the same way. It was to connect with leaders of leading non-Manitoba businesses to understand from them what their future plans are, and could we position Winnipeg as an option for them? What would it take for them to choose Winnipeg? And how did we get to them? Well, through attending some of the leading industry conferences, through flat out research, just understanding who are the leading global companies in each one of our focus sectors and proactively reaching out to them with emails and then follow up phone calls, and so on.
It was all started with cold calling. Again, instead though of saying, “I’ve got this widget. Are you interested?” We were there saying, “We’d love for you to open or expand here. What are your plans? What can we do to help you choose Winnipeg?”
David: Right. Okay. One of the things that I always bring up when I’m talking to people who were entrepreneurs in different areas, who’ve built up enterprises that sell widgets to consumers or to other businesses or whatever – instead of selling cities to businesses – a couple of the questions that they always ask is, “What did the competitive landscape look like?” and “How did the first sales work?”
That first question, the competitive landscape, I assume or I know for a fact that other regions were also trying to market themselves to businesses. Did that factor into all to what you were doing or did you kind of just ignore that and try to do your own thing?
Bill: Well, we certainly did the latter. We were in no way deterred by what we had heard or assumed that other entities were doing. That’s for sure. Do other jurisdictions do something similar? Quite frankly, you’d be surprised at how few Canadian cities . . . well, there is nothing like Yes! Winnipeg anywhere else in Canada. There is no . . . we’ve heard this by a number of other entrepreneurs and many other jurisdictions that reached out to us, just to learn and hear what we’re doing, and how and why.
Now, in the U.S, a different story. The U.S. tend to be far more aggressive and assertive in economic attraction than what is the case in Canada. So yes, very definitely many parallels in the U.S. In fact, way back when we were forming the initiative in our due diligence and best practice research, most if not all of the communities that we really looked and sort of tried to pattern were U.S. jurisdictions.
That is one reality. Now, in terms of how did we go about undertaking this, again, we saw from the best practice and seeing some these U.S. jurisdictions, we saw what they were able to achieve. And we just felt that “Why couldn’t we have similar success here?” And if we took the similar sort of approach why couldn’t we have that kind of . . . and we definitely proved it, right? Through the time that I was involved in the organization we generated very, very positive results for it.
David: Was there any sort of trepidation at the beginning, in terms of, especially in light of what you’re saying that this was an organization that was unique in Canada, and I’m kind of paraphrasing the process here, but if you picked up the phone and called up the CEO of some company that isn’t currently very invested in Winnipeg, and you’re telling them, “Hi, I’m some guy who’s leading an organization that’s trying to get you to be investing in Winnipeg.” What was the pitch? How did that relationship start if it wasn’t a warmly. . .
Bill: Right. Yeah. One thing, just before I directly answer the question, one thing that is really important that I definitely – and the team – believed in was: why not Winnipeg? Why not Winnipeg? If you start with that, if you think just before you dial the phone that the company you’re about to reach out to, the likelihood that that leading corporation isn’t involved in some degree of discussion or planning about some new facility that could or should resonate with Winnipeg, is very low.
I’ll tell you in a minute about our sweet spots, what we consider to be, just because of our strengths, the kinds of operations that are ideally suited to Winnipeg. And when you think about those sweet spots and how those compare or overlay to most corporations, there’s a phenomenal overlap.
So that’s the first thing. We thought most of these people that we’re going to be calling to are, whether they’ve got it posted on their websites or in their media releases or not, they are in conversation right now in some board room about some new facility.
Secondly, as I said earlier: why not Winnipeg? This is an excellent location. So when you start with that level of confidence, it allows you to – I think – have some really good conversations. Did it mean that everybody we reached out to became a lead and an ultimate . . . no. Definitely not. Did we have some great success? We absolutely did. Did we plant a lot of seeds that are going to pay off for Winnipeg in the future? Absolutely.
I think all of those things are important. First of all, you can’t go into it thinking, “The likelihood of me getting success is really low” and therefore be anything less than totally enthused. Secondly, you can’t be thinking that the likelihood that they would find your jurisdiction of interest . . . that never works, and nor can you go into it thinking that, “If I don’t end this call with a strong prospect, I’ve failed.” You have to be realistic, and we were really proud of what we achieved.
David: Right. So what’s the sweet spot?
Bill: Well, there are a number of types of business operations that we think Winnipeg is ideally suited for, and I’m going to list them in no particular order.
First of all I’ll start with research and development. Winnipeg is, for a variety of reasons, this is arguably one of the best places in the world to do research development. And I can elaborate on some of these if you’d like.
Secondly we are very, very well suited for advanced manufacturing operations. And I emphasize “advanced,” as compared to the kind of manufacturing where all you need in order for success is to throw lots and lots of very inexpensive labor at it. That’s not us. But if you what you require for success is highly engineered, complex either technology driven manufacturing or process driven manufacturing, Winnipeg’s got a great, great story.
And all you have to do is look at companies like New Flyer Industries, Motor Coach Industries, MacDon, Buhler, Price Industries. We’ve got some world-class companies here that take advanced manufacturing. They could be anywhere. Why Winnipeg? Because we’ve got all the right ingredients.
Third is we’re very well suited for what I’ll call back-office operations. By that I mean companies who, whether it’s providing functional support like centralized HR, centralized IT, centralized finance accounting, customer support. You just go again down the list. Companies like Great West Life, Inventors Group, RBC with their national contact center. Very, very strong circumstances for that sort of corporate type of support.,
And then finally the whole idea of distribution. We are, from a transportation perspective, we’re very, very well suited to be doing regional and sometimes even national or international product distribution out of the Winnipeg area. So if you just think about that. By the way, I include in that third category data centers. When I talk about back-office operations I include data centers.
David: Of course. Like Air Canada there.
Bill: Air Canada. Canadian Tire with our help chose Winnipeg to develop what they considered to be the most advanced cloud computing center of all Canada here in Winnipeg. MTS, Great West Life, again the list goes on and on.
So, if you think about it, back-office operations, data center operations, distribution, research and development, advanced manufacturing. Think of any major corporation. How many of them don’t have at least one or two of those? That’s why we were very confident reaching out to those companies to talk to them about their plans.
David: And so those initiatives were successful then? It sounds like . . . you just said in part, thanks to the Yes! Winnipeg Canadian Tire chose this location. I assume a lot of those deals might not be public acknowledged or Yes! Winnipeg’s involvement might not be, but are there any that you’re comfortable talking about in terms of big wins for the organization?
Bill: Sure. You’re absolutely right that there are some clients whose preference was to stay under the radar. They preferred that it not be publicly disclosed that we were actively involved with them, but the majority were enormously appreciative of what we did – not that the first weren’t appreciative – but that had no issue with us sharing it.
So yeah, I would say the Canadian Tire story was a fantastic one in that when that operation is mature, it will be 80 jobs. High end well-paid jobs. They will have invested over $65 million in this center, and when they started the process of deciding where they were going to set up this new cloud computing data center, two things. First of all, it was only going be a data center. And ultimately what they ended up choosing when they read the experience Winnipeg’s value proposition was not only a data center but a digital application development lab, which absolutely they weren’t even planning on. But when they saw an experience, what we had to offer here in terms of our workforce, they expanded it.
But more importantly, Winnipeg wasn’t even on their radar when they began this process. They had no presence here other than retail, but fortunately we were given a chance to pitch them and once they realized how good our story was it was a . . . so that’s a great story.
When you look at companies like Price industries, so the leading manufacture of non-residential HVAC technology in North America and headquarters here in Winnipeg, they had all but decided that they were going to be developing a new manufacturing facility in Minneapolis to produce the materials related to a whole new technology that they had researched and developed here, and were going to take to market.
And we happened to learn about it, learned that this opportunity existed but that it was highly unlikely that they were going to do it here in Winnipeg. And fortunately, we got in at the 11th hour, had to do some really quick talking to convince them to give us the chance, and again within three months they had completely overturned their decision to do it I the United States and opted to do it here. Again, 150 new jobs, high-end advanced manufacturing jobs. A tremendous story of cooperation.
Yes! Winnipeg acted as the quarter back. We brought all of the players together. The provincial government played a very important role, the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro, a whole bunch came together extraordinarily well, which again is a real feature of Winnipeg, just the way we all pull together. Again, that absolutely would not have happened were not for our getting involved and quarterbacking that effort.
You mentioned you’ve met with Todd Habicht, the President and CEO at HD Petroleum. Todd I know speaks in very positive terms about the assistance that we were able to mobilize in ensuring that HD, which has tremendous promise globally, that that happened here. Todd is not a Manitoban. I shouldn’t say that so quickly. I can’t remember enough whether he was born in Manitoba but. . .
David: He spends a lot of time in Saskatchewan.
Bill: Most of his time in Saskatchewan. And it would have been either Saskatchewan, Alberta far more likely that . . . or even in the United States, that a petroleum company would have been based there. But I think he would point to the work that we did to convince him that Winnipeg was his best option. And again, when that is fully developed that will be well over 100 jobs, and out of Winnipeg as well.
All told, there’s been 60 or so, as I recall, companies that with our assistance that have made a decision to either open or expand here, and lots of good jobs created in the process.
David: Yeah, very cool. Circling back a little bit then to the beginning of the initiative, and the reason I ask this by the way not is so much because I’m necessarily interested in Yes! Winnipeg’s fundraising process itself, but because it relates to fundraising process in some ways. It’s very different in many ways too, but it relates to the fund raising process that some of the entrepreneurs listening to the show are going be interested in.
If I understand correctly, Yes! Winnipeg, from the outset, it did the fundraising first and then you basically branched out into your own organization from the Chamber, and it was 70% private funding, something like that. And so, what did that process look like? How did you go about pitching that to the private sector here?
Bill: Well, we used a bottom-up budget development process. We started by gaining some sense of what would we need to achieve over five years in terms of results, in order to have people saying, “You know what? If they could do that that would be pretty significant and I would support that.”
So it started with what kind of outcomes did we feel we had to generate. And for us, everything was focused on jobs. How many jobs could we create or play a role in retaining where we could absolutely attribute it to our participation? So we started with that. Then you look at, “Okay. So if we’re going to archive that, what kind of team, how big a team, with what kind of structure, what kind of backgrounds, how much money would we need in order to be able to produce those kinds of results?”
And that’s exactly what we did. We determined that we needed about north of $6 million over five years. Then, again looking at how things worked in the United States, where it was most successful was when it was predominantly private sector funded. So we knew that we needed at least 55% private. So with that, we went to the three levels of government to say, “Here’s our idea. We need you guys on first, because if you’re not on board there’s no way that the private sector is going to.” So we made the ask.
Again, the support by the public sector was good, and so we had that secured and then we were able to go out and start to pitch the private companies. And when it was all said and done we ended up raising roughly $6.5 million, and it ended up with about a 70, 30 split of private to public.
Now, what is remarkable about this, is: never been done before. Starting from a standing stop, we commenced the fundraising in 2009, which was . . . the word was still coming out. . .
David: Tough time to raise money for sure.
Bill: And we did it in the summer time. Everybody said, “You’re not going to have any business people around.” Well, we defied all those odds and we commenced it in June. By September we had hit our goal. So that was in and of itself was pretty remarkable. But the more remarkable thing, Dave, is that there is no quid pro quo here. There is no what or why. It’s not like. . .
David: Right. It’s not an investment. It’s all just money that they’re giving you.
Bill: Exactly. All these companies, these 125 wonderful companies, have done this primarily because they bought into the notion that this was good for this community, that this was going to help to take our community to another level, and they’re just good corporate support or community supporters. Really, really something.
Yeah, we did our very best to provide them with recognition. We did our very best to ensure that whenever clients that we were working with had products needs that they would look first to these wonderful 125 companies for the fulfillment. We made best efforts to keep our funding sponsors informed of recent successes and pending successes so that they could actually reach out to these companies, put their best foot forward pitching for business.
All those things happened, but that’s not why they got in. They got in because they just saw this is a great initiative, and I think too the fact that we had such broad base of support. We didn’t just go to the five biggest companies to say, “Will you sponsor this?” We went to them, but we went to . . . gosh, we’ve got some relatively small companies that are supporters of ours. We went right across. A broad base. I think when you spread the support across a broad base it certainly makes it easier as well.
David: Very cool. Wrapping up then, because I think we’re getting close to time here, what would you say to local entrepreneurs that are just getting started and that are maybe trying to evaluate whether this is actually the right place to be for them? What’s the pitch there?
Bill: Yeah. I’m really glad you asked, because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. We started by saying that all of us felt like we had a very strong value proposition, just not all that well known. Again, sometimes we here don’t fully appreciate it. Again, in no particular order these are the things that I would remind them of.
First, we have amongst the lowest costs of any major city in Canada, quite frankly most of the U.S as well, in which to operate a business. Contained within that is that we’ve got the lowest hydroelectric rates, we’ve got a far lower than average labor rate. We have amongst the lowest real estate values. We’ve got low worker’s compensation rates. We’ve got low MPI rates. And I’m not talking as residential, I’m talking about business expenses, and that’s not just “Bill Morrissey say-so.”
Organizations like KPMG who have a whole practice around comparing the cost of operating a business, every major city around the world, and they publish their reports every two years, consistently point to Winnipeg as having amongst lowest costs. So that’s a very important factor.
Now, we sometimes get, we look at one particular element whether it’s sales tax or whatever and we go, “This is an uncompetitive environment.” Well, we all would love to see our taxes – and I’m going to put on my other hat – and I would love to see more action directed at reducing taxes. But, in spite of the taxes being what they are, all business expenses considered, which what KPMG does, still Winnipeg has amongst the lowest costs. That’s critical. When you’re trying to operate a business competitively you’ve got to keep your costs low. So that’s number one.
Number two, and I’ll come back to energy. We have an abundant supply of renewable, sustainable green energy, and again at the lowest published rates. So if you are a company that needs considerable amounts of power to run your machines, to heat or cool your facilities, there’s no better place in North America than Winnipeg.
Third is we’ve got an excellent workforce. Excellent both in terms of the availability of our workforce largely as a result of an outstanding immigration program, but also the overall quality of our workforce. We’ve got a reputation of having amongst the most productive, loyal, hardworking workforce. We’ve got one of the highest average job tenures anywhere in Canada. People don’t change jobs here nearly as often as they do in other places. And this is a huge benefit to employers.
Our central location is critical. If your business is one where you wish to support a customer base across Canada or across North America, being right in the middle and supported by exceptional transportation assets. We are a tri-modal transportation hub. We’ve got the highest percent dedicated air cargo flights anywhere in Canada. All three class one rail carriers . . . only two cities in Canada where CNCP and Burlington Northern directly serve the footprint. We’re home to five of Canada’s 20 largest trucking companies. So we’ve got central location, central time zone, excellent transportation assets.
We’ve got an excellent quality of life. So attracting and retaining employees because of the low cost of living and so on is a great value as well. I could go on for a long time, but those are some the most important things that . . . and also just the overall. The first thing that we did, day before we launched the initiative, was we got a group of volunteers from the business community. We called it our business call team. There were 60 of them, and they went out and met with the presidents and CEOs of 200 of Winnipeg’s largest companies.
And they were there to ask that same question: what is it about Winnipeg that attracted your company here or that keeps you here? And these volunteers wrote down the answers, and many of the things I mentioned were what they . . . but the number one most often mentioned reason by these business leaders was how supportive and collaborative the Winnipeg community is.
And this isn’t about how when you walk down the street you get a friendly smile. That’s important, but they – these are business leaders who have worked in a number of different places – said that that the way that business works together here, the way that government and business works together, academia and business work together, is unlike anywhere else.
Bill: Yeah, and that’s obviously very important. They can make a connection right down to the bottom line. Those are some of the things.
David: Well, thank you so much for your time Bill. It’s really been a pleasure.
Bill: It’s been my pleasure. It was good to meet you.