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Business forum brings world to Winnipeg in May

Small to mid-size businesses will have a speed-dating opportunity with other businesses

Winnipeg will be reaching out to the rest of the world May 25-27 as it hosts a business-to-business forum that will allow participants to travel the globe for opportunities.

That forum, to be held at the RBC Convention Centre, is just one component of an event called Centrallia, which will see more than 700 participants from Canada and more than 30 countries assemble to seek new opportunities in international markets.

Described as the equivalent of a “speed-dating opportunity” for smaller and mid-size businesses, it’s the fourth such event held in Winnipeg.

Mariette Mulaire, president and CEO of the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, the organizer of the mammoth event, says Centrallia has a proven track record, with each edition generating gross direct economic benefits for the city’s economy adding up to about $5 million.

“And that’s not counting the economic opportunities for the companies themselves that are involved in the event,” she said.

While many of those opportunities flow to Manitoba-based businesses, he said there are also many companies and trade groups from other parts of Canada, from the U.S. and from Latin America involved.

Centrallia participants are allowed beforehand to “shortlist” the business leaders they want to meet with, which usually leads to followup meetings and new opportunities geographically or in sectors they might not have considered.

“It’s extremely beneficial for companies based here in Manitoba,” said Mulaire. “But it’s also a great opportunity for companies from outside the province. For instance, a success story from a past Centrallia event featured a U.S. company partnered with a company from Senegal.”

This year’s event is geared for firms seeking opportunities in manufacturing, transportation and logistics, agribusiness, information and communications technologies, environmental industries, energy, resources and mining, construction and infrastructure, innovation and research and development.

This year’s Centrallia includes two “breakout” sessions dealing with The Arctic and The Americas. Officials from Alaska to Lapland, Finland will attend.

The Arctic session focus will be around business opportunities dealing with the needs of northern communities, and improving economic conditions in those communities — particularly in such areas as energy, communications, waste management, transportation and logistics, food security, housing and new technologies, and remote service delivery.

The Americas’ theme is focused on north-south trade strategies. Trade officials from the Mercosur and Pacific Alliance blocs will speak, focusing on the business opportunities in South American countries, including Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela; all part of the Mercosur pact. Pacific Alliance participants include Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico.

In addition to hearing from members of those blocs, participants can hear presentations from Canadian companies that have been active in those markets.

Mulaire said it’s quite common for companies to discover that a product or service they have developed has application to markets they have never before considered.

“Or it’s possible someone from Brazil may see an opportunity in their market for a product or service offered by a Canadian company that is participating,” she said.

In the past, the biggest beneficiaries have been manufacturing companies, IT companies, firms involved in environmental services and energy- and mining-related firms, she said.

“We prepare people (business leaders) before their meetings and we provide our services on an ongoing basis, assisting with followups,” said Mulaire.

While that service is mostly open to Manitoba-based businesses (the WTC Winnipeg receives funding from the Manitoba and federal government), Mulaire said companies from outside the province are referred to contacts within their market.

The event is supported by a global network of trade support organizations who work with participants, and remain available after the event. More than 50 such delegation leaders have committed to the event to date.

For its part, the WTC Winnipeg is part of the World Trade Centres Association, the largest trade organization in the world with more than 300 World Trade Centres globally.

“If a Manitoba company wants to do trade with Mexico or Brazil or Asia, we can pick up the phone and call our counterparts in those countries and get all the information we need right away,” said Mulaire.

Centrallia has steadily grown since it was first held in 2010, when 400 companies and trade organizations and 600 people from 20 countries were involved.

The Manitoba Co-operator is a sponsor of this event through its parent company, Glacier Farm Media.

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