Canada’s geographical centre is set to reach out to the world in May, as host of a business-to-business (B2B) forum for agribusinesses and other sectors to network across the globe from one spot.
That forum is one component of Centrallia, in which over 700 participants from Canada and over 30 other countries are expected at Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre May 25-27, learning more about tapping new opportunities in international markets.
Described as the equivalent of a “speed-dating opportunity” for smaller and mid-sized businesses, it’s the fourth such event held in Winnipeg, a city viewed as having one of Canada’s most stable business environments and diversified economies.
Opportunities found at Centrallia, held every two years, have been “extremely beneficial for companies based here in Manitoba,” said Mariette Mulaire, CEO of the World Trade Centre Winnipeg (WTC Winnipeg), the organizer of the event.
“But it’s also a great opportunity for companies from outside the province. For instance, a success story from a past Centrallia event featured a U.S. company partnered with a company from Senegal.”
As parts of Canada are hit hard by the commodity slump and seeking economic diversification, Centrallia is billed as offering a proven path for companies looking for other markets and opportunities.
Represented sectors include agriculture and agrifood as well as manufacturing, transportation and logistics, information and communications technologies, environmental industries, energy, resources and mining, construction and infrastructure and innovation and R+D.
Participants are allowed beforehand to “short-list” business leaders with whom they want to meet. It’s common for companies at Centrallia to discover a product or service they have developed has applications in markets they have never before considered, Mulaire said.
“Or it’s possible someone from Brazil may see an opportunity in their market for a product or service offered by a Canadian company that is participating.”
Centrallia this year is to include two “breakout” sessions on this year’s focus areas: the Arctic and the Americas.
The Arctic session, expected to draw officials from Arctic Circle jurisdictions such as Alaska and Lapland, is to focus on opportunities and improving economic conditions in Arctic communities, in such areas as energy, communications, waste management, transportation and logistics, food security, housing and remote service delivery.
The Americas theme is to focus on north-south trade strategies. Officials from the Mercosur and Pacific Alliance blocs are to discuss opportunities in Mercosur countries such as Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela, and Pacific Alliance nations such as Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico. Presentations by Canadian companies that have been active in those markets are also expected.
Contracts have sometimes been signed immediately at the event, she said, but not all deals have such a short lead time. “In 2014 we were getting stories of contracts that had been signed from leads established at Centrallia in 2010.”
WTC Winnipeg’s involvement doesn’t end with the conference, she added. “We prepare people (business leaders) before their meetings and we provide our services on an ongoing basis, assisting with follow-ups.”
While that service is mostly open to Manitoba-based businesses — WTC Winnipeg gets funding from the Manitoba and federal governments — Mulaire said companies from outside the province are referred to contacts within their market.
A global network of trade support organizations works with participants and remains available after the event. Over 50 such delegation leaders have committed to the event.
Part of the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) — the largest trade organization in the world, with over 300 members — WTC Winnipeg also provides seminars, research, trade missions and business assistance.
Centrallia itself grew out of a trade program aimed at the French-speaking world — a combined market of over 275 million consumers. Manitoba, which has the most francophones per capita in Western Canada, got involved in France’s Futurallia exhibition and obtained the rights to host a Canadian version.
Registration for Centrallia is $1,350 per person; exhibiting firms pay $3,200. Airfare and accommodations aren’t included in these costs, but Mulaire argues that it would cost the registration fee alone just to fly to a foreign location, such as any of the participating South American countries.
“It would cost that much just to fly to Toronto, but here the companies are getting an opportunity to short-list the companies they want to talk to,” while a flight to Brazil, plus hotel room stays, would cost many times more, she said.
Centrallia’s keynote address — previously delivered by figures such as Ken Blanchard (author of The One Minute Manager) and Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Outliers) — this year will come from U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, who today heads Perspectives International Inc., an Atlanta agency delivering programs for minority communities.