April 7th, 2006

Halifax tells Winnipeg how to score employment turnaround

If Manitoba is ever going to get out of its brain-drain rut, private and public sectors will need a unified front to persuade workers that the grass isn’t greener in other provinces, an employment conference was warned yesterday.

Stephen Dempsey, president and CEO of the Greater Halifax Partnership, wowed a Winnipeg luncheon audience yesterday with his inspirational tale of how Halifax transformed itself in a decade from a city with dwindling employment opportunities, rising unemployment and falling business and consumer confidence. The city is now capable of scoring a multi-million dollar expansion from Waterloo-based wireless giant Research in Motion.

Dempsey said that without question, such a turnaround would not have been possible without the team-first approach shown by the city’s politicians, business leaders and educators. The results are palpable. Since 1995, Halifax has seen it’s population grow by 29,000, or eight percent, and its workforce increase by 44,000, up 27 percent, he said.

"I believe in the collaboration between the public and private sectors. I would recommend that to any community that was considering a change in its approach,” he told the crowd of 100 at the “Leadercon 06” conference at the Radisson Hotel.

Dempsey warned that cities and provinces in need of a turnaround can’t dilly-dally.

“Don’t kid yourself. You don’t have time to fool around. What’s the cost of doing nothing? It’s huge. You don’t want to worry about bringing people back - you don’t want them to leave in the first place,” he said.

Dave Angus, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said it is preparing to take a serious look at the Halifax model and see how it might be adapted for the Manitoba capital.

"The essence of their partnership is something that we’re looking at. We need to build something that will work for Winnipeg. But that’s the magic - everyone around the same table with one plan and one set of objectives,” he said in an interview.

Angus said Halifax’s success isn’t a fluke because Nashville, Tenn., uses a similar model and it’s now the No. 1 city in North America for business relocation.

Winnipeg Free Press