Tipping point for our Port

Multi-modal transport hub brings industrial growth to Manitoba.

Diane Gray, President and CEO of CentrePort. Photo supplied by CentrePort.
Diane Gray, President and CEO of CentrePort. Photo supplied by CentrePort.

By Joan Cohen

It’s 2016. Early days, yes, in the story of CentrePort, our vast inland-port-on-the-rise. Out of the public’s view, there’s been much activity. CentrePort’s officials, in association with a broad range of government, business people and professionals, have already laid an impressive foundation for the task of bringing new industrial growth to Manitoba. They’re doing it on a massive chunk of quality industrial land in Winnipeg’s northwest quadrant and neighbouring R.M. of Rosser.

Canada Cartage is one of many new facilities that are currently under development.
Canada Cartage is one of many new facilities that are currently under development.

And now, in 2016, the public is likely to sit up and start taking notice as land use and other plans are announced and the project takes on a new reality. Just last month, CentrePort and BroadGrain Commodities announced that the Toronto-based agribusiness would be investing $25 million to build a grain handling operation and bean processing facility at the new CentrePort Canada Rail Park, expected to break ground later this year.

“We feel we’re at an important tipping point at CentrePort,” Diane Gray, the corporation’s president and CEO said the other day, paying tribute to the “very significant effort by government at all levels, and partners, including business organizations.” All are working with CentrePort on both the hard structures that are reshaping the actual landscape, such as the new expressway and water, wastewater and utilities servicing, as well as the soft structures which involve planning matters, rules and processes.

CentrePort officials offer this definition of an inland port: “A physical site located away from traditional coastal borders with the vision to facilitate and process international trade through strategic investment in multi-modal transportation assets and by promoting value-added services as goods move through the supply chain.”

In fact, CentrePort can already boast of having access to outstanding transportation facilities, and will offer much more starting very soon, including the just-announced and remarkably well-served Rail Park, where land is available for development by corporations that are heavy users of rail transport. And the services offered by this inland port – as well as its land use and other planning – promises to be multidimensional in a way the quoted definition does not seem to envision.

At CentrePort, issues which interfere with business competitiveness – such as stop lights that slow down trucks on the highway or seemingly unnecessary delays by government in approving land transactions – are being dealt with on many fronts, or will be.

CentrePort Canada Inc. was created by a 2008 Manitoba law as a private-sector-led corporation to manage the overall development of the inland port, market it to private investors, and act as a “single window” for companies wanting to set up a new operations on site.

By the end of 2015, 42 companies had been established on 220 acres of former greenfield. The pace of business growth is expected to speed up in 2016, with new serviced land becoming available, and as the construction begins on the new Rail Park.

Over the coming five years, CentrePort is expecting 300 acres of new industrial development, including a batch of companies served by much-prized, direct rail facilities that will become available in the new Rail Park.

Planning is also already underway on a 600-acre residential community, home to an expected 8,000-plus residents, to be completed within 15 years.

After considerable research, CentrePort has committed itself to focussing its businesses effort on six key industrial sectors: agri-business, composites, mining/energy; biomedical; regional distribution (retail and manufacturing components and goods); and e-commerce.

Businesses and economic planners of many types will be watching in the years ahead as CentrePort, its partners in the business world and governments push ahead with this pioneering venture, breaking new ground in countless ways. A few examples, now in place or just ideas awaiting their own right moment include:

  • The mandated “single window” services for new CentrePort investors is already in place. It opens on a cornucopia of helpers, the likes of which few business people could ever in the past have experienced.

The goal behind the single window is to allow a potential investor to phone CentrePort and receive advice and support while working through the various aspects that go into consideration of a new operation at the inland port.

That starts with questions from CentrePort representatives to determine if the inland port is a good fit for that investor’s business, followed by a rundown of the benefits CentrePort can offer the investor. These include Foreign Trade Zone benefits or other incentives that a company may be eligible for, as well as explanations of the types of approvals that will be needed.

Some of CentrePort’s private sector partners will likely be called in to contribute their expertise: a realtor maybe, or a lawyer, or whatever knowledge is needed as the inquiry proceeds. If the project continues to make sense for the investor and for CentrePort, the little group will get to work to make it happen.

Single window? At CentrePort it means call us, and we can help guide you through all the things that need to be done. There are many – particularly if the investor comes from another country.

  • CentrePort has ongoing dealings with educators from the Manitoba Institute for Trade and Technology, Red River College and other post-secondary institutions and that, says CEO Diane Gray, has helped link CentrePort to those creative thinkers in our institutions who appreciate the benefits of working with the business community to do things in somewhat untraditional ways.

Thus was born the idea of creating what Gray describes as a unique campus, a shared operation on CentrePort land to be used by secondary and postsecondary institution to train students or workers, and serve companies looking for specialized training for their staff.

Such an institution would meet a crucial ongoing need of businesses, which are always in search of skilled and knowledgeable people, and deal with entry-level jobs up to the level of PhDs.

This institution also would be able to respond more quickly and directly to a specific company’s skills needs and the arrival of new technologies in their workplaces.

Education authorities have been enthusiastic about the proposal, and CentrePort’s chief figures that sometime within the next couple of years this region could be ready to look seriously at such a proposal. No such operation exists elsewhere. “I’m very excited about the idea,” says Diane Gray.

But CentrePort isn’t all work: its motto is “Live, Work, Play and Learn,” and living will be very much part its development agenda, with residences occupying the promised 600 areas of prime land (as will play facilities and much greenery in its own allotted space).

“It has become an important point for workers not to have to commute long distances to their place of employment, and that’s a quality of life issue for them,” the CEO explains. If you spend less time getting to work, you have more time to work and also, importantly, to spend with your family.

So, as is customary around this unusual port, much time and many people were involved in planning around an area that lends itself well to residential living. The plan was presented at a recent open house, and has gone forward to city hall. An announcement is expected soon.

Our Centreport approaches a “tipping point”

Needless to say, it won’t be just Winnipeggers who will be watching the interesting adventure we know as CentrePort take root and evolve. It would seem that progress is being watched, if not yet monitored, from assorted locales on this continent.

This is a short and necessarily fragmented introduction. We guarantee, however, that exciting times lie ahead, as Winnipeg begins to shape up as North America’s unique inland port city.

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