News & Media

New ventures on the horizon

The eurozone is teetering on recession, there's less rapid growth in China and political and economic uncertainty has become standard operating procedure in the U.S.

That means plenty of question marks for 2012.
Winnipeg Free Press archives Ground will be broken on the Alt Hotel downtown in 2012, the latest boost to the heart of the city.

In Manitoba, a couple of story arcs from 2011 will to set the stage for significant dynamics next year.

There is always the hope for breakthroughs and deserved rewards in the new year and theres plenty of that sentiment among the Manitoba business community.

Here are a few things to watch for in 2012.

What a fantastic box! It's not as exciting as the return of the Jets or as glamorous as a new museum but the expected expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre will set off an historic new round of downtown development in 2012. The long-anticipated process of creating more density downtown could include a new hotel and office tower and residential components. One thing seems certain -- at least some of the mass of surface parking lots south of Portage Avenue will become extinct.

There's plenty of room at the inn. You'd think Winnipeg is the new Las Vegas, what with all the new (and renovated) hotel rooms on the books in Winnipeg. Lakeview's Grand Hotel at the airport is under construction, the Alt Hotel will break ground in 2012 and another boutique hotel is planned for Waterfront Drive. A second hotel is planned beside the newly built Marriott on Ellice Avenue, Angelo Paletta is spending $14 million redoing the old Howard Johnson property into a new Holiday Inn and Canad Inns is adding to its growing hotel empire with the planned construction of a 17-storey hotel adjacent to the McPhillips Street Station Casino and an 18-storey hotel on Health Sciences Centre's campus is under construction.

Where's there? Its architects are keen to point out with regularity Centreport is a decades-long development idea. But physical evidence of its existence is starting to emerge. The highway is getting built, pipes hopefully will begin being laid for sewer and water to service industrial land that is getting snatched up and a potential site for a common-use rail facility has been identified. Who knows, maybe there really will be somewhere to point to when people ask where Centreport is, exactly.

The north gets busy. 2012 is the 100th anniversary of northern Manitoba joining the province. It ought to help focus a little more attention on the massively underdeveloped part of Manitoba. The province has budgeted $70 million for the east-side roadway and there could be two new mines under construction in 2012 (Lalor will be completed and Reed Lake is set to begin). The most concentrated marketing effort in years is already underway to diversify activities at the Port of Churchill. Global warming is concerning, but new opportunities may emerge.

A really new grain crop. Like it or not, the end of the Canadian Wheat Board will mean massive changes in the Prairie grain industry. Winners and losers will emerge and it will probably take a few years to sort out that score sheet. But 2012 will surely be a historic year for the ag sector as farmers will have to decide who to sell their wheat and barley to, something theyve not had to do for the past 75 years.

Flight towers to cell towers. In 2011, shares in the Exchange Income Corp. were up 44.5 per cent (compared to an 11.3 per cent decline in the TSX). The diversified acquisition-oriented company owns virtually all the regional airlines in Manitoba and northwest Ontario, and in 2011 it bought the Westowera company that designs, builds and services wireless communications towers. A major new contract for that division will help EIC become one of the new darlings of corporate Canada in 2012.

Could this be the end? Early this year, shareholders of the Crocus Investment Fund will receive cheques in the mail leaving scant little of the outrageously inept investment experiment left to pick over. If the fund does get wound down completely this year, it will close one of the most embarrassing chapters of Manitobas history of contributions to the financial services industry. Likely the only ones who won't be happy to see it go will be the receivers, Deloitte, who turned management of the sullied fund into the goose that laid the golden egg.

The one that got away. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation is one of the most obscure federal Crown corporations based in Winnipeg. In 2012, its hold on the market will become even more tenuous as Saskatchewan is planning to extricate itself from the single-desk fish marketing agency. Unhappy fishers in far-flung locales are determined to find better customers than FFMC can and its relevance may erode further.

Please hold the line. Manitoba Telecom Services has forged an admirable, if not spectacular niche of its own in a wildly competitive space. Its strong hold (alongside Rogers) on the modest-sized, but lucrative, Manitoba wireless market has kept many would-be competitors out. Its national business services network, Allstream, continues to search for profitability. With more consolidation and competition expected in 2012, it will be another important year for MTS.

The next big thing. Intelligent Hospital Systems is building its order book for its million-dollar robotic pharmaceutical dispensers; the provinces ag equipment manufacturers are licking their chops over the eastern European market; San Gold and a handful of exploration companies expect solid years in 2012; and grain handlers and independent consulting services to farmers will have very busy years.