Most of Winnipeg’s major roads are a tangle of construction this summer.
The biggest is a $212-million expressway underway in the city’s northwest corner that will connect the 20,000 acres of Canada’s first inland port with James Richardson International Airport.
Though only a month into the project, one Thunder Bay consulting engineering firm is already in the middle of the action.
TBT Engineering snagged a big contract with SNC-Lavalin, which is overseeing the construction of a section of four-lane expressway between the CentrePort lands, the airport and the Perimeter Highway.
The company is conducting quality control testing for the road construction material, including aggregates, soil, asphalt and concrete.
Although lab manager Hermie Manalo was reluctant to put a dollar value on their contact, he said the job takes up 30 per cent of the time of the 15-employee staff.
The company set up shop in the city’s industrial park north end last year to take advantage of Manitoba’s big infrastructure push in highway construction and hydroelectric developments in that province’s north.
If their close proximity to the future CentrePort lands and Richardson Airport means anything, the inland port could be the gift that keeps on giving.
CentrePort is being touted as a phasedin development that could have legs beyond 10 to 15 years.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on with this project,” said Manalo, whose office has enjoyed success in the province working on various infrastructure-related jobs since being established in March 2009.
Tenders have not been released for any other CentrePort-related construction projects, “but we are looking for any opportunity that will be available on the horizon,” said Manalo.
With three layers of government involved, CentrePort CEO Diane Gray said a lot of things have to come together before the first warehouses go up on the 20,000 acres.
The non-profit corporation is awaiting a servicing agreement with the City of Winnipeg and a subsequent land-use plan so they can start aggressively marketing the intermodal park to international logistics companies and manufacturers.
Engineering firm AECOM has been retained to deliver an estimate and finalize a servicing plan for water and sewer in the CentrePort footprint.
“Hopefully they (the city) are going to accept our request for moving ahead rapidly to put the servicing in,” said Gray.
With companies starting to queue up as tenants, Gray said it’s difficult to tackle municipal zoning issues until a servicing date is firmed up, hopefully later this year.
If government money for water and sewer is approved this fall, tenders can go out this year and serviced land could by available within 12 months, she said.
“Once these companies, who have agreements-in-principle with landowners and brokers, have a timeline for servicing, that will trigger the investment dollars.”
The corporation released its first-ever business plan in June.
It lays out their strategy and goals over the next five years in business development, strategic partnerships, senior government support, marketing, and anticipated land and infrastructure developments.
Much of that legwork involves arranging partnerships between some of the undisclosed companies that want to come to Manitoba and the various industrial real estate brokers and private landowners within the CentrePort footprint.
A critical factor to any success with CentrePort is identifying freight backhaul to fill empty containers in and out of Winnipeg to overseas markets. The issue was acknowledged in the 18-page document but was not addressed in any detail. Gray said they are talking with several companies and consortia to identify specific backhaul opportunities.
The kind of companies they want to attract are trade-oriented, especially in manufacturing and assembly, distribution and warehousing, food processing, agricultural commodities and related service industries.
Gray said CentrePort will develop in a very logical way, beginning with activity around Inkster Boulevard and west of Brookside Boulevard.
Great swaths of acreage identified as being part of the CentrePort footprint is still being used for farming and is decades away from development.
While there is an element of competition among North American intermodal parks, Gray said their project has its own function as a regional distribution centre and to service development in northern Manitoba.
She emphasized CentrePort isn’t set up to cannibalize freight or relocate companies from other North American projects or even neighbouring industrial parks. They want to attract companies in growth mode that want to expand in the Manitoba market. Some firms they have talked to expanding into new product lines and are entertaining joint venture opportunities.
“Not every company that invests in Canada is going to think CentrePort makes sense for them,” said Gray. “We’re trying to raise awareness with companies that are going to service a particular market.”
From her tours of North American intermodal parks, Gray discovered there is not one model for success, but industry people emphasized that a Winnipeg park should reflect the city’s strengths. “Don’t try to build something that doesn’t make sense for your particular marketplace,” she was advised.
“We’re unlikely to become an inbound distribution centre for retail goods because we don’t have the marketplace the size of Chicago or Dallas-Fort Worth.”
Winnipeg has inherent advantages of being situated in the centre of North America and at the convergence point of three major Class 1 railroads.
Major trucking companies have their headquarters or operate terminals in the city and Richardson International Airport is the third-busiest cargo airport in Canada. It is also the farthest point south that cargo aircraft flying over the North Pole can cycle their aircraft within 24 hours.
“We’re looking to tap into that and make it geographically advantageous for companies who are managing their supply chains.”