By Joyanne Pursaga, Winnipeg Free Press
Photo: Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files
Prepare land for new industry and it will come.
That message was stressed as a key step Winnipeg can take to recover from the economic hit of COVID-19, during an Economic Development Winnipeg presentation Monday.
Ensuring industrial lands receive services such as sewer and water would help attract businesses and grow the tax base, Dayna Spiring, the organization’s president, told city council’s innovation and economic development committee.
“Once we service that land, I am very confident that within a couple of years’ time, we’re going to have people that are investing in building facilities on that land.… We don’t need new housing land, we don’t need new commercial retail land — we need new serviced industrial land,” Spiring told the committee.
Such development is critical following substantial local losses, she said, noting restaurant and food services sales fell 32 per cent between January 2020 and January 2021 in Manitoba, and by the end of 2020, Winnipeg Airport passenger travel had plummeted 87 per cent from the same time in 2019.
The city’s downtown has visibly declined, which should be addressed to help tourism rebound once travel is no longer discouraged, Spiring said.
“Like it or not, we are judged for our downtowns. (With) Portage Place, the (now-empty) Bay, people sleeping in bus shelters, it is not the impression of a thriving city that we want to leave,” she said.
Spiring urged councillors to try to ease the process for new businesses to set up, which should help Winnipeg better compete with surrounding municipalities.
“You only have to look at the growth in the (rural municipalities) of Rosser, Macdonald and Springfield to see what’s possible and to see what we’re missing out on. They have developed a process (that allows) for faster projects and other related approvals,” she said. “Winnipeg is losing out and that will result in lost property taxes for the city.”
Much of the land the city should focus on is located in CentrePort South, she said.
The area offers 2,500 acres of unserviced industrial land located west of the airport and is important for the creation of jobs and revenue, said Coun. Scott Gillingham, city council’s finance chairperson.
“To service the employment lands… it would grow our tax base and provide jobs for people who, in turn, can then buy houses,” he said.
The city has already taken some steps toward the servicing recommendation, he said. A city staff report is expected to detail the cost to extend water and sewer service to CentrePort South and advise council on whether those changes could be gradually phased in.
The city warned it could run out of capacity in the next five to nine years at its current North End sewage treatment plant. A $1.8-billion plant upgrade is slated to increase capacity by 2028, so securing provincial and federal funding for that project is vital to ensure the city can service the lands for industry, Gillingham said.