Centrallia 2016 kicked off Wednesday with high-level, daylong concurrent conferences on doing business in the Arctic and the southern Americas, playing to Manitoba’s strengths as a gateway for trade both north and south.
Speakers included international experts such as the University of Manitoba’s David Barber, a global authority on the Arctic marine environment, and Hernan Fernandez, one of the founders of the leading angel investment network in Mexico.
It is the fourth Centrallia conference in Winnipeg since 2010 and the third with an international connection. It is being held at the RBC Convention Centre. With two days of individual business-to-business meetings still to come, there was already a sense the event has a harder-hitting, more intense feel to it than the previous ones.
Many believe it has as much to do with the fact the city’s business people know Winnipeg has much more to offer now as it is about the fact the Centrallia brand has matured.
Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, attended the event as a delegate.
“We have got a very strong business case for Manitoba, and I think business people need to continue to get out there and understand the importance of global trade,” Davidson said. “The business-to-business meetings are a great opportunity for them to test the waters and see what appetite is out there.”
Mariette Mulaire, the CEO of World Trade Centre Winnipeg and the head of the organizing team for each of the Centrallia events, said the city is an easier sell now than it was in 2010 when the first event was held.
“So much is going on in Winnipeg now, not just Centrallia,” she said. “Everyone seems to be working in the same direction, everybody is talking about how the city has so much to offer. They weren’t saying that as much six years ago. It’s as if we all flipped a switch in our minds.”
The U of M’s Barber set the tone of the conference by providing an eye-opening, expert presentation on the challenges facing the Arctic region as well as the opportunities that exist for business development.
As one of the world’s experts on how climate change is affecting the Arctic, Barber held nothing back in describing the melting of the polar sea ice.
But he also was just as forthright describing the kind of economic development opportunities that exist. He called his talk: Challenges and Opportunities of a Rapidly Changing Arctic.
“The reason I focus on that — the rapidly changing Arctic — is because it is not something we are projecting to happen in the future,” Barber said. “It is something that is happening right now. We are right in the middle of it.”
He said the current measured average global increase in temperature is at about 1 Celsius and rising and noted it has been at three degrees in the Arctic for many years already.
But Barber is also sincere about encouraging development in the Arctic and believes it is something the Inuit people want as well.
“That is why I came to this conference,” he said. “I’m a scientist first and foremost. My job is to do science and understand what is going on. But I’m also a realist. I believe fundamentally that we need to develop resources in the south and in the North. My issue is not with development. My issue is that it is sustainable development.”
Tom Tessier is the typical delegate at Centrallia. He’s the founder and CEO of Solara Remote Data Delivery Inc., a Winnipeg company that makes satellite communications devices engineered for use in the most remote, extreme environments anywhere.
His company has provided equipment for Barber’s research enterprises in the Arctic and already has customers around the world.
“I have meetings lined up with people in Nigeria, Mali, Algeria and throughout the U.S.,” he said “This is great because it is a global-reach market that we’re in. We can produce things for people anywhere, even Antarctica where we already have some equipment.”
As much as eyes were opened about the business opportunities in the North, Hernan Fernandez, one of the founders of the leading angel investment network in Mexico, probably did the same about the south, in particular Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, countries that are part of the integrated trade group called the Pacific Alliance.
Fernandez was in the middle of a cross-Canada tour to talk to potential investors in his fund and encourage Canadians to think more about the Pacific Alliance countries.
“Our job is to tell more about the truths behind the tale of two Mexicos,” he said.
“Some places on the border are definitely facing tough challenges in the drug war. But you are more likely to get mugged in Washington than in the Mayan Riviera.”