As we start 2021, it is a critical time for Winnipeg. Once the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine increases and restrictions lessen, our local companies and sectors may still face more changes and challenges. On the positive side, just over the precipice of change lies more opportunities. The bold moves we all make now will ensure our comeback is strong and sustainable. Here are just five insights to think about as we start 2021 and our path to recovery.
The office is not dead, it is getting flexible
The office is not dead, same for our Downtown. Research from commercial real estate experts bears this out. Collier’s International shows 54 per cent of businesses expect all employees to return to their offices once a vaccine is fully available. Using office spaces differently in the future may happen, but it’s an opportunity for flexibility, not its demise.
Meanwhile, Cushman & Wakefield notes, “The office is more than just a building – it’s a place where people come together to build connections, collaborate and innovate.” We know companies and employees still crave personal connections. Look no further than SkipTheDishes, which will move into a 95,000 sq. ft. office at Downtown’s True North Square this year alongside residential units and exciting amenities including Bell MTS Centre and Hargrave Street Market. Wawanesa is pressing ahead with its new North American headquarters and will bring 1,100 Winnipeg employees under one roof in the same area.
Helping businesses move from a storefront model to the Digital mainstreet is more important than ever. Winnipeg’s aptly named Bold Commerce helped businesses refine their e-commerce game in 2020, leading to big rewards that will carry on in 2021. Bold’s tech tools and advice elevated 66-year-old menswear retailer Harry Rosen’s online shopping experience. It boosted online sales by seven per cent in four months using AI and text conversations to virtually curate selections for customers.
Smaller businesses like Lennard Taylor, Across the Board and Enigma Escapes also created immersive e-commerce experiences, allowing them to grow their customer base locally and abroad. Even as the pandemic subsides and storefronts can open again, the Digital mainstreet will remain and only grow.
Innovation will reignite our economy
The innovations we’ve seen throughout the pandemic from Winnipeg companies like Price Industries, PCL Construction, Precision ADM, NFI Group and others have created new opportunities to fire up other parts of our economy. The Winnipeg Jets are using PCL’s isolation pods as testing pods so the team can run thousands of rapid tests a week. We are thinking about how we apply these kinds of innovations to other areas where we want to bring people together safely, such as festivals, business events and public gatherings. We need to explore how to apply innovation to reignite our economy.
Strong data and science to reopen our economy safely
Strong data is paramount when it comes to getting us through this pandemic and beyond. We need to be guided by data and science as we make decisions. The most successful companies are the ones that harness science and understand the data to drive decision-making and direction.
In the years ahead, cities, governments and organizations like ours will continue to use it to tell us in what sectors Winnipeg truly shines and where to focus our efforts when attracting new businesses, investment and talent to this city.
Act on access to capital
To grow, we need an "access to capital" fund for businesses. Expanding existing or creating new capital programs could help smaller struggling businesses with cash flow issues and drive more equity investment into local medium to large companies. We’ve waited, we’ve debated and it’s time to act. We can no longer just get through this pandemic; we need to get better as we come out on the other side.
I’m excited to see how as a community we come together to reopen and revive our economy. Survival is no longer enough. Now is the time to lay a foundation for companies to grow and succeed in a post-pandemic economy.
This editorial was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press January 21, 2021.