Winnipeg Real Estate Forum signals positive economic growth in Manitoba

By Peter Squire
The 2022 Winnipeg Real Estate Forum has come and gone, with organizers, sponsors and participants looking forward to attending the next event scheduled for 2024 (it’s held every second year).
The Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board (WRREB) was pleased to sponsor this year’s event held on April 26. CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board, Marina R. James, had the opportunity to introduce keynote speaker Dave Angus, who shared his insights on the Growing Manitoba’s Economy findings and recommendations which came out of the Task Force he co-chaired with Barb Gamey. While a lot has happened since the study was completed in December 2018, much remains relevant in 2022 for Manitoba to achieve its potential.
Before highlighting the key points in Angus’ address, it is worth mentioning that in her role as CEO of the WRREB, James has used her strong economic development background and executive leadership experience to elevate the newly branded WRREB to excel at a higher level in order to do its part in contributing to Manitoba’s economy. In 2021, through the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) cooperative selling system, there were $6.25 billion transacted in mostly residential real estate. However, the commercial property type has also fared extremely well, and through the Commercial Property Information Exchange (CPIX), significant amounts of commercial real estate development, sales and leasing took place. It was estimated that the economic spin-offs generated by 18,575 MLS® sales were in the neighbourhood of $1 billion.
During the Forum, Angus spoke about what differentiators Manitoba needs to leverage and drive growth, noting that 11 were identified by the Task Force report. They include things like access to financial capital as a critical factor in business growth and expansion, strategic and trade enabling infrastructure investment, better alignment and delivery of economic development in the province, stronger emphasis and focus on workforce development programming, including creating opportunities for Indigenous Manitobans to participate fully in the growth of Manitoba’s economy and development of specific sector strategies with relevant stakeholders. What it all comes down to is how will this economic growth action plan be executed? Is there a decision-making framework in place to make it happen?
One of the real strengths in this province, one that has certainly helped ensure a stable housing market for many years, is Manitoba’s exceptionally diverse economy. Even in manufacturing, which represents 10% of the Manitoba economy, this key sector is extremely diverse. This not only highlights the safety and security of investing in Manitoba’s economy, but is also a springboard for growth. One of the real positives Angus noted is there is a lot of collaboration across the different industry sectors in combination with application of technology to make them better. Angus talked about no longer playing defence, as we are going on the offence with innovation and bringing new technology and new values to marketplace.
One good example of harnessing a number of Manitoba’s advantages, such as its central location and time zone, is CentrePort Canada. Angus singled this out as a huge job creation and investment opportunity for Manitoba. CentrePort is North America’s largest trimodal inland port with 20,000 acres of industrial land to be developed. The recent announcement of moving ahead to develop the 665-acre Rail Park to bring all three key modes of moving goods together at one location — that is trucking, air and rail — is exciting and bodes well for its future and Manitoba’s economic growth.
CentrePort came up at other panels during the day-long event, such as during  the one WRREB commercial Member Robert Scaletta moderated on industrial real estate, which included Diane Gray, President and CEO of CentrePort Canada as one of its panelists.
Another panel where CentrePort — or more specifically CentrePort South (land in which Winnipeg encompasses) — came up was the one on development across Winnipeg and how the City is facilitating project approvals to support infrastructure activity. Panelist John Kiernan, City of Winnipeg’s Director of Planning, Property & Development, said Winnipeg needs to service its portion of CentrePort and is looking for provincial and federal funding to get going on its $20 million infrastructure investment. This also includes an important residential component which would see new residential housing come to West Winnipeg. This is an opportunity Winnipeg needs to embrace to increase its tax base and bring on much needed employment land to the city. The collaboration Angus spoke of between business needs to happen between the three levels of government on game-changing infrastructure projects.
Between Kiernan and panelist Greg Rogers, who is heading up the development of the University of Manitoba former Southwood golf course land, infrastructure came up in ways to enable more intensification of our city’s development. How does Winnipeg grow up, not just out, and bring in the proper zoning to meet the infrastructure requirements? Many people do not realize that Waverley West is denser than established neighbourhoods such as River Heights. Downtown was also mentioned as a real opportunity for more development, with the Union Station being the future hub of Winnipeg’s transit system.
Speaking of transit, Rogers said we need to build higher in developments such as UM Properties to maximize Winnipeg’s major investment in the southwest rapid transitway. Maybe a planning commission model will come into existence, as politics at the community committee level shortens building heights and sub-optimizes our investment in transit. Parking requirements also need to be reexamined, as cities like Edmonton have eliminated them to let the market decide.
Much was covered in the 7th biennial Winnipeg Real Estate Forum, which 2022 Forum Chair Don White was instrumental in establishing. In his closing roundtable with Premier Stefanson, Great West Life Inc. and Canada Life President & CEO Paul Mahon, and Mark Chipman, Executive Chairman of True North Sports + Entertainment, White brought out a number of positive themes and attributes that will grow our economy.
Affordability is one given, as our house prices versus many more expensive housing markets in the country, combined with the education property tax cut of 50% planned for 2023 that Premier Stefanson mentioned, helps make our housing more affordable. Mahon spoke of how there is no downside to real estate as it really is a matter of how you capture value by repurposing it if necessary. And Chipman said all these years later that the Canada Life Centre is the right size arena and that they have invested heavily in it since then to improve and enhance the customer and fan experience.
Youth, too, was a theme, and how we prepare them through education, training and skills to learn and prosper in Manitoba. All agreed we need to get them more engaged in our community so they can be involved and affect things positively.
Peter Squire is the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board’s Vice-President, External Relations & Market Intelligence.