There is positive economic momentum in Winnipeg


The latest Economic Development Winnipeg/Probe Research survey of Winnipeg business people gauging how folks are feeling about their jobs, the economy and their future shows that attitudes are getting close to returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Compared to the results of the same survey in September 2019, as many people said they were better off financially than a year ago, and as many people also believe they will be better off a year from now as did in the fall 2019 survey.

Only a slightly higher percentage of respondents are concerned about their job stability than was the case just before the pandemic began.

There was a nine per cent uptick from December of people who are optimistic about the economic future of the city, but that one is still lagging by seven per cent compared to September 2019.

The surveys provide some hard data — a “gut check” said Dayna Spiring, the chief executive officer of EDW — as opposed to relying on anecdotal evidence.

“What I do hear from the business community and now what the results are actually telling us… I feel pretty good about,” she said. “I think it’s positive.”

Stabilized COVID infection rates in Winnipeg, which compare favourably with other cities, give Spiring the idea that it can be leveraged to the city’s advantage when it comes to the competitive undertaking of attracting meetings and conventions, which are big money makers for the city.

Spiring said Winnipeg has the chance to be showcased as the city with the fastest recovery in the country.

But to truly exploit that momentum will take more than declining infection rates.

Last November, the province made a pool of $50 million available to fund programs that would help with the long-term recovery and long-term sustainability of Manitoba businesses coming out of COVID-19. Since then EDW and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce have been designing programs to get at the pain points.

Two such programs are about to be unveiled over the next couple of weeks which will address some key challenges facing the entire economic spectrum — stocking the labour market with people with the skills employers need but cannot find, and providing financial assistance to companies looking to upgrade their digital technology systems.

The details of the programs have not yet been finalized, nor have they been signed off by the province, but both are expected to provide $12 million to $15 million for businesses.

The training piece is designed at this point to reimburse employers $2,500 for each employee who enrols in a micro-credential program or any number of courses that will compiled into an inventory.

The support for digitization will be scalable so larger enterprises which would likely have to spend more on their technology will have access to more of the funds than would a small company which might just need its first website or a proper e-commerce platform.

A report released this week by BDC showed there are structural changes taking place in the labour market that’s leaving industries across the board desperately searching for workers to fill positions. It also made the case that companies are going to alter the manner in which they attract and recruit talent.

“We know the labour market is in incredible flux,” Spiring said. “We want to put some money in the hands of employers to decide who is providing them with the best educational opportunities for their employees.”

Since the pool of money was announced a couple of programs have already been dispersing funds. A $5-million Dine-on Restaurant Relief Program which rebated restaurants some of the cost of delivery services during code red regulations in January, and a $9-million Hospitality Relief Sector Program was launched in March that helped tourism operators cover some of their fixed costs now covered by other support programs while they were closed.

“One thing through the pandemic I give the government credit for is that they have been able to recognize… that it is not that quick at being able to move dollars,” said Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. “We design the program for them and report on results. We have the ability to be more nimble than government can ever be to do these kinds of things.”

The digitization program will take into account that not all companies will need to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but some might.

“It will have the ability to ramp up,” Davidson said.

They’ve done well so far with built-in checks and balances to prevent anyone from gaming the system.

“The previous programs were extremely successful and we know where every dime went,” he said.

Getting money into the hands of those businesses that really need it, in a timely fashion, has been the mantra for support programs through the pandemic.

It will be equally important that happens during the recovery.

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

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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