Proven global business-to-business "speed dating" coming to Winnipeg

Winnipeg has long been viewed as the geographical, logistics and business centre of Canada, and this May the city will reach to the rest of the world as it hosts a business-to-business forum that will allow participants to travel the globe for opportunities from the comfort of the RBC Convention Centre.

The event, coming May 25-27, is called Centrallia, where more than 700 participants from across Canada and around the world are expected to assemble in one venue to discover how they can tap new opportunities in international markets.

It’s described as the equivalent of a “speed-dating opportunity” for smaller and mid-sized for companies from outside the province,” says Mariette Mulaire, president and chief executive officer of World Trade Centre Winnipeg (WTC Winnipeg), the organizer of the mammoth event.

“For instance, a success story from a past Centrallia event featured a U.S. company partnered with a company from Senegal.”

With business leaders in Alberta, Saskatchewan and other parts of Canada hit hard by the commodity slump and now searching for ways to diversify their economies, Centrallia offers a proven path to other markets and opportunities.

Participants are invited to “short list” beforehand the business leaders they want to meet with, which usually leads to follow-up meetings and new opportunities geographically or in sectors they might not have considered.

The cost of registering for the event is $1,350 per person, while firms wanting to exhibit at Centrallia pay $3,200. Of course, airfare and hotel costs aren’t included in these costs, but Mulaire argues that it would cost the registration fee just to fly to a foreign location, such as any one of the South American countries that will participate.

And that’s without the value-added component of having access to a database beforehand that allows participants to identify what markets they are interested in.

“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,” she says.

This year’s event is geared for firms wanting to search out opportunities in manufacturing, transportation and logistics, agribusiness, information and communications technologies, environmental services, energy, resources and mining, construction, infrastructure, innovation and R&D.

Markets you didn’t know existedMulaire says that it’s quite common for companies attending Centrallia to discover that a product or service they have developed has application to markets they have never before considered.

“Or it’s possible someone from [another country] may see an opportunity in their market for a product or service offered by a Canadian company that is participating,” she says, adding that it has been common in the past for contracts to be signed right at the event.

“However, in a lot of cases it ends up being the first meeting. Deals can have long lead times. In 2014 we were getting stories of contracts that had been signed from leads established at Centrallia in 2010.”

In the past, she says the biggest beneficiaries have been in manufacturing, IT, environmental services, energy and mining.

Breakout sessions: Arctic and the Americas Centrallia includes two breakout sessions dealing with this year’s focus areas, which are the Arctic and the Americas.

The Arctic session will focus on opportunities to service the needs of and improving economic conditions in northern communities worldwide. This is particularly in such areas as energy, communications, waste management, transportation and logistics, food security, housing, new technologies and remote service delivery.

Officials from Alaska to Lapland, Finland are expected to attend.

The Americas theme is focused on north-south trade strategies. Trade officials from the Mercosur and Pacific Alliance blocs will speak, focusing on business opportunities in South American countries including Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela, which are all part of the Mercosur pact.

Pacific Alliance participants will include representatives from markets that Canadian companies are already active in including Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico. The session will include presentations from country representatives as well as companies that have seen success in those markets.

Keynote: Famed international civil rights leader Dr. Gerald Durley Centrallia begins with a keynote address from a noted international speaker. Past speakers have been Ken Blanchard, noted business author and speaker who wrote The One Minute Manager, and internationally renowned author Malcolm Gladwell.

Dr. Gerald Durley, this year’s speaker, may not be as well-known to Canadians, but he is famed in the U.S., where he is widely respected as a leader in the civil rights movement, as well as championing the rights of other minority groups.

He has held senior positions in the U.S. Office of Education and now heads Perspectives International, which aims at producing constructive programming for minority communities.

WTC Winnipeg keeps the opportunities goingThe involvement of WTC Winnipeg doesn’t end with the conference.

“We provide our services on an ongoing basis, assisting with follow-ups,” says Mulaire.

While that service is mostly open to Manitoba-based businesses (the WTC Winnipeg receives funding from the Province of Manitoba and the Government of Canada), Mulaire said companies from outside the province are referred to contacts within their market.

WTC Winnipeg is part of the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA), the largest trade organization in the world with over 300 World Trade Centres globally.

“If a Manitoba company wants to do trade with Mexico or Brazil or Asia, we can pick up the phone and call our counterparts in those countries and get all the information we need right away,” said Mulaire. “Joining the WTC has really been a game-changer for us, not only for Centrallia 2016, but for the ongoing benefits and reciprocity of service.”

Click here for more information about Centrallia.

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