Looking for business on the world stage

Portage Regional Economic Development Executive Director Vern May presents at the World Trade Centers Association conference in late April. Submitted photo

Mickey Dumont

The Portage Citizen — In the big picture, the end of April’s World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) meeting at Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Portage la Prairie may have been a bit player on the huge international stage, but our representative there had an ulterior motive.

The WTCA conference saw a memorandum of understanding signed committing almost 40 nations to wide collaboration in agribusiness, but Portage Regional Economic Development Executive Director Vern May’s agenda was to talk up opportunity in Portage la Prairie.

When pea protein processor Roquette was looking to expand into the Americas, many eyes and investors were watching the play unfold. Portage la Prairie’s ability to accommodate an international food processor building a plant of this size has others in this worldwide food processing community talking, looking and becoming increasingly interested in Portage la Prairie’s wet industry capabilities.

May’s job is to step up to the plate, bunt, hit a single, double, home run, anything, just keep Portage in the game while our averages are high. In 10 years from now, we can brag of a one-year time frame when we attracted $1 billion in investment, but the success will have grown long in the tooth by then causing investors to wonder ‘why hasn’t anything happened since then?

In March, May attended a WTCA trade mission in Manitoba that was selling Canada as an attractive investment. “I pitched the idea ‘why don’t we use the Roquette example of their investment into Manitoba as an opportunity to showcase what it is we have to offer the world,” May said.

His pitch offered all the right “show, don’t tell” details to earn him the opportunity to be part of the international trade panel in The Netherlands.

“I spoke as part of a panel on doing business in Canada which was equal parts trade in terms of Canadian export and investment.”

The panel members came from Vancouver, Portage la Prairie, Toronto and Halifax. 60 countries were represented with only four, Canada, The Netherlands, Mexico and India, getting the opportunity to stage pitches for investment to over 400 international trade delegates.

“I steered clear of the numbers — the metrics and statistics everyone was throwing out. I just wanted to tell the story,” May said. “I wanted to tell the story of Roquette. I wanted to talk about what investment means in a community our size versus a community the size of Toronto. What 150 (the proposed number of new jobs should equate to an approximate 1.5 per cent population increase) jobs mean in a community our size versus Vancouver. In a community our size 150 new jobs, is a huge impact.”

The panel was a professional opportunity to talk up Portage la Prairie in the context of Manitoba, but the conference was the golden opportunity. May populated his schedule with meetings throughout the conference to promote first Portage la Prairie, then Manitoba.

“Once we got to open the door and put a face on Manitoba and Portage la Prairie, we had a portfolio and investment profile to show. We were there talking about a very defined (Portage la Prairie and area) jurisdiction in Manitoba but trying to speak broadly in marketing our message.

May was part of one-on-one meetings with delegates from France, Mexico, China, Ghana and The Netherlands.

“It was great to be in that environment where you are dealing with world trade centers and everybody is looking ahead 20-25 years and saying ‘what are the world’s most pressing concerns going to be’. Across the board, no matter which country you were talking to, is that every country around the world is right now wondering ‘how are we going to feed a growing world population 20 years from now’, he said.

“With a lot of the European countries already at (production) capacity, they are looking for somewhere to expand to.

“We are already seeing some of that investment from The Netherlands, not in our municipality,

but pork and swine genetic producer Topigs Nordvin has recently opened a business in Manitoba.”

As the world becomes more conscious about what they are eating, plant protein (think Roquette) is becoming increasingly important. Canada is already leading the way in this segment.

It’s all about timing.

Portage la Prairie’s phone number is now on more than one International speed dial list!

The World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) is a network of more than 300 highly-connected, mutually-supporting businesses and organizations in nearly 100 countries. As the owner of the “World Trade Center” and “WTC” trademarks, the WTCA licenses exclusive rights to these brands for Members to use in conjunction with their independently-owned, iconic properties, facilities and trade services offerings. Through a robust portfolio of events, programming and resources that it offers its Members, the goal of the WTCA is to help local economies thrive by encouraging and facilitating trade and investment across the globe through Member engagement.

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