President & CEO's Message

January 2016

A message from Marina R. James, President & CEO, Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.

The Benefits of Calling a Spade a Spade: A Retrospective Appraisal

Most of you know by now my tenure as president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg is nearing its end, so this will be my final quarterly message as leader of this remarkable team. Consequential career changes—I’ve had a few over the course of my professional life—always make me ponder the kind of job I’ve done. Most often, these internal reflections take the form of a laundry list of what got completed. But this time, although what remains important, I find myself thinking more about why. And as it turned out, asking why struck right at the heart of the biggest challenge I faced when I walked through EDW’s doors for the first time in January 2010.

When you ask why instead of what, the inevitable result is that you’re able to infuse an organization with a sharper focus. Why involves thinking strategically; what is (hopefully) a logical extension of this strategy that takes the form of a specific deliverable. Not being one to put the cart before the horse, it seemed sensible to begin by asking why the organization was branded as a single catchall entity, Destination Winnipeg, at a time when economic development and tourism agencies were defining themselves in increasingly unambiguous terms.

The solution—Destination Winnipeg should be rebranded as Economic Development Winnipeg, complete with a distinct Tourism Winnipeg division (and a YES! Winnipeg initiative shortly thereafter)—helped form the foundation of the successes the agency experienced in subsequent years. This rebranding necessitated a restructuring of EDW, and this restructuring proved critical to how each of the three distinct elements operated moving forward.

After a career spanning decades in the private sector, I made the conscious decision that all parts of EDW would be treated like a for-profit business. Its mandate would be smartly articulated and executed, its performance would be measured with pertinent metrics, its results would be shared with all stakeholders and—most importantly—its staff would be charged with delivering on myriad expectations with the same sense of urgency, expertise and consequence that characterize the most successful companies. In short order, everyone at EDW felt this palpable shift toward a planned, purpose-driven work life. And ultimately, after being fortified with a heightened focus that accompanied this new arrangement, all three entities nurtured dedicated personnel who pushed the envelope in their respective jobs in a way that allowed the entire organization to benefit.

No one is an expert at everything, myself included, but by clearly defining the roles and responsibilities required to achieve success within all three parts, and by communicating these expectations to those chosen to execute the deliverables identified, we were all witnesses to the fruit of our collective labour.

I’ve always believed a leader’s job includes mentoring others, and I make a conscious effort to do so every day. By restructuring EDW, its personnel became experts and mentors themselves in a multitude of very specific areas, readily sharing their knowledge with others. More than that, this created a working environment that promoted both discipline and accountability at an individual level that exists to this day, and which has served EDW well during my time here.

On the economic development side, the past six years have seen EDW make important inroads in multiple areas. Together with the Orthopaedic Innovation Centre, for example, EDW has played a key part in building out Winnipeg’s capacity in additive (i.e., 3-D) manufacturing, a specialty field experts predict could revolutionize innumerable industries. Additionally, EDW has been an essential ally to the Composites Innovation Centre in its work to support and stimulate economic growth via innovative research and development and the application of composite materials and technologies for manufacturing industries.

Strategic partnerships also contribute to Winnipeg’s prosperity, and some of the most important relationships EDW has strengthened in recent years include those with the Consider Canada City Alliance, the Partnership of the Manitoba Capital Region, CentreVenture Development Corporation, the Winnipeg Airports Authority, CentrePort Canada, the City of Winnipeg’s Planning, Property & Development Department and the Government of Manitoba’s Jobs and the Economy Department. Together with these and other collaborators, important progress is being made to make Winnipeg a destination of choice for discerning investors. 

Marketing Winnipeg to international investors is endlessly rewarding. Working closely with those responsible for compiling research and competitive intelligence, EDW’s marketing and communications staff has reimagined and refreshed all of its materials over the years to better support those on the proverbial front lines. Company profiles, sector overviews, videos, brochures, a new logo—the list is long. And all of it can be found on EDW’s revamped website, easily the most important marketing-related accomplishment to happen here since my arrival. Launched in April 2014, it was subsequently honoured with the lone gold award in its category from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).   

When it comes to business retention and expansion efforts, EDW’s YES! Winnipeg initiative has proven an invaluable asset. Its team of business development professionals did an exemplary job during its first five-year mandate that culminated in December 2015, assisting in the creation of 3,713 jobs and over $490 million in capital investment at maturity. From early successes like the ALT Hotel, Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature, Canada Goose, Maple Leaf Foods and Winpak to more recent triumphs like Buhler Industries, Price Industries, SNC-Lavalin, Sightline Innovation and SkipTheDishes, YES! Winnipeg has become an integral component of EDW’s economic development platform.

But perhaps even more important to the city’s long-term fiscal health than the individual successes itemized above is the vital part YES! Winnipeg plays as EDW’s bridge to the private sector. YES! Winnipeg is most directly attuned to the pulse of the business community and regularly solicits meaningful counsel from its leading proponents, many of whom have become YES! Winnipeg investors. Thanks to this symbiotic relationship, which has attracted the attention and support of both the municipal and provincial governments, YES! Winnipeg is increasingly well-positioned to approach local companies—including foreign-owned subsidiaries of international firms—and ask “How can we help you do better here?” Being capable of swiftly acting on the answers provided has made YES! Winnipeg a formidable advocate for area businesses, which makes the odds of attracting entirely new companies to the city far more favourable.

Switching to the tourism side, I recognized early on that industry confidence would be critical to elevating our international standing in the years ahead. In April 2011, Tourism Winnipeg was awarded accreditation from the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP) for 2011 to 2015, which was recently reaffirmed for 2016 to 2020. DMAP is administered by Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), based in Washington, D.C., and it remains the only comprehensive industry-wide accreditation program of its kind.

Formalized professional development opportunities were also encouraged. To date, three members of Tourism Winnipeg’s staff (myself included) have earned a Certified Destination Marketing Executive (CDME) designation following an intensive two-year program offered by DMAI via Purdue University. The CDME program encompasses an advanced curriculum designed for tourism executives seeking senior-level education, and its embedded graduates give Tourism Winnipeg a formidable base from which to launch initiatives that will grow the city’s tourism economy.

I’ve long been a proponent of having a well-articulated and carefully considered multiyear plan in place to benchmark our efforts. While the economic development plan was a joint effort with the City of Winnipeg entitled the City of Winnipeg Economic Development Strategy, its counterpart at Tourism Winnipeg, conceived in collaboration with partner organizations, is called A Master Tourism Plan for Winnipeg. By far the most significant tourism-related achievement of the past six years, it has served as the foundational framework and rationale for an array of high-value, high-return activities undertaken by Tourism Winnipeg. 

From the Winnipeg Tourism Awards of Distinction, the holiday luncheon for industry stakeholders and local events celebrating the nationally recognized Tourism Week to the popular Peg City Grub and Only in the Peg blog posts and related social media activities, the ‘Bring It Home’ program that encourages leading Winnipeggers to help bring sports and special events as well as meetings and conventions to Winnipeg, and the establishment of the visitor information services platform, to cite just a few of the many well-regarded projects spearheaded over the years, Tourism Winnipeg is now a veritable force in driving regional, national and international visitation to our community.

Similar to the economic development model, much of the credit for Tourism Winnipeg’s development is shared with its various strategic partners, with whom the sales and marketing functions have been both streamlined and enhanced. Thanks to input from essential collaborators like the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Winnipeg Airports Authority, Travel Manitoba and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries—all valuable contributors to the 47-member Team Winnipeg partnership—Tourism Winnipeg is now at the forefront of North American destination marketing organizations with respect to the many high-level promotional initiatives undertaken. Among the litany of annual sales and marketing efforts, Tourism Winnipeg and its partners work jointly to attract key decision-makers, host influential travel writers, and participate in domestic and international sales missions to secure future meetings, conventions, travel trade, sports and special events for Winnipeg. 

As a direct consequence of asking why rather than simply what, EDW made strategic decisions that transformed it into one of the most respected combined agencies around. By rebranding, restructuring and empowering its staff, EDW has steadily evolved into an industry leader and—more importantly—the leading proponent of our city. With a clarity of purpose, passionate personnel and a deliberate plan to raise the city’s profile, third-party recognition for both EDW and Winnipeg is now common.

The city was selected by the Intelligent Community Forum as a Top7 finalist in 2014 for Intelligent Community of the Year (and a five-time Smart21 honouree), and it was identified in 2015 as one of the top 10 midsized cities in the Americas for foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy as well as business friendliness by fDi Magazine in its biennial American Cities of the Future rankings (placing fifth for FDI strategy and sixth for business friendliness). For its part, EDW has twice been recognized by Site Selection magazine in the last three years as a top 10 Canadian economic development group and is a recipient of multiple awards spanning several categories from both the IEDC and its Canadian equivalent, the Economic Developer’s Association of Canada.

When I first arrived at EDW, my chief objective was to implement innovative strategies that would allow us to live up to our mandate. By equipping the organization with the tools and talent necessary to compete internationally against analogous jurisdictions, even those with considerably more resources, I sincerely believe we succeeded in punching above our weight and in putting Winnipeg on the proverbial map in ways not seen before. As conceived from the outset, framing the organization as a for-profit business proved fortunate on multiple levels.   

In so doing, EDW was elevated to a new yet necessary level as it worked to attract investment, grow jobs, improve rankings and increase tourism visitation—an evolution not lost on industry peers. And as a result, Winnipeg’s international profile became more renowned, robust and persuasive. Admittedly, EDW’s progression is far from over, but I am confident my successor will inherit an organization ready and willing to tackle and overcome the challenges sure to present themselves in the years ahead as the next iteration of the economic development and tourism industries is gradually, invariably unveiled.

After six years of strategically advancing EDW’s mandate, I have accomplished everything—and more—I could have hoped. I leave EDW in capable hands, with a dynamic, enthusiastic and experienced board of directors, a strong senior-management team, and passionate and dedicated staff that I know will continue to deliver on our mandate. Like me, those I was privileged to work with at EDW enthusiastically championed our city at every turn to the best of their ability. Like me, the drive to master their respective areas of expertise contributed to the advancement of the entire organization. And like me, they never settled for deciding what should be done without first asking the much harder question: why.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve. I am appreciative and enriched beyond words.



Marina R. James
President & CEO
Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.