Winnipeg is the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, located in the center of the North American continent. Winnipeg’s economy is dominated by agriculture, energy and manufacturing. Over the past decade, the city has built a new economic foundation by connecting industry, education and a rising technology sector. Winnipeg’s digital transformation began when local business leaders, frustrated by poor broadband service, established the Manitoba Internet Exchange to attract internet service providers and reduce their operating costs. Today, it has seen major investments in greater connectivity by private sector companies including a $400 million investment by Bell MTS for all-fiber connections across Winnipeg. Strong collaborations with universities, community colleges and major employers have created everything from large fabrication labs to digital equipment upgrades and micro-credential workshops that generate new products, new companies, and new jobs. Innovation centers conduct joint research and development projects with global impact across major industries from agriculture and life sciences to transportation and distribution. Digital inclusion begins with the public library system and continues through valuable community programs that use digital technology to provide economic opportunities for Indigenous communities and foster greater understanding. Balancing tradition and ambition, Winnipeg keeps building a high-potential future for its people.
Improving Connectivity through Collaboration
Internet service in Winnipeg has long been plagued by high latency, high transport costs and frequent failures due to being routed through other provinces and even parts of the United States. To address these issues, four local businessmen began the non-profit Manitoba Internet Exchange (MBIX), the area’s only local IXP, in 2011. The exchange became operational in 2013, with initial members including Les.Net, Rainy Day, CIRA, Global Service Centre, Akamai International, Hurricane Electric, VOI Networks Inc., Adam Thompson and Packet Clearing House.
MBIX allows members to directly connect to one another over unmetered ethernet in order to exchange local Internet traffic, bypassing the need for expensive and complex routing. As of 2017, the MBIX owns and operates the ethernet switching platform used to interconnect local member networks. The IXP also offers access to an Akamai cache, local root DNS serves and a competitive transit provider to local ISPs peering on its platform. MBIX successfully attracted the global Hurricane Electric network to Winnipeg, which offers Internet transit at a fraction of the cost offered by existing local providers.
Educating the Next Generation of High-Skilled Workers
Sisler High School in Winnipeg’s historically underserved North End neighborhood is at the forefront of digital media education in Canada and has earned a reputation as an international leader in that sector. As one of Manitoba’s largest and most diverse schools, serving over 1,700 students from a wide variety of backgrounds, the school has taken steps to serve all its students by establishing the CREATE program in 2015. The CREATE program includes 24 different creative courses, including classes in animation, concept art, film, sound design, visual effects, graphic design, photography, motion graphics, game design, virtual reality and app development. It combines technical training courses with industry mentorship and access to internship opportunities, providing students with the tools they need to pursue high-skilled employment after graduation. Since 2015, the program has grown from 180 students to over 1,000—more than half of Sisler High School’s total student body—and has established the provincial curriculum framework for Motion Picture Arts education and Interactive Digital Media education.
In 2019, Sisler High School expanded the CREATE program to include an 8-hour post-graduate pilot program focused on job readiness and post-secondary pathways to employment. Of the post-graduate program’s first 26 students, 11 are employed in the industry with an additional 10 receiving full-ride scholarships to Vancouver Film School. Based on the pilot program’s initial success, the school expects to see even more scholarships provided to students in 2020.
North Forge Technology Exchange
The North Forge Technology Exchange is an innovation-based economic development agency in Winnipeg that provides entrepreneurs with award-winning mentors, subject-matter experts and a two-stage startup program that includes business training and access to financing. It was conceived by the teams behind The Eureka Project, AssentWorks, Ramp Up Manitoba and Startup Winnipeg working in collaboration. The North Forge Technology Exchange is Canada’s largest non-profit fabrication workshop, providing access to digital fabrication and prototyping equipment as well as training and support. Its services include cloud hosting for development servers, web servers, file servers and production environments; the UX Lab, which offers assistance with user and usability testing and stakeholder interviews; the Advanced ICT Lab, a digital maker space; and a subscription market intelligence platform. As of mid 2020, the North Forge Technology Exchange has produced over 3,500 developed prototypes, 83 currently in-development businesses with 94 new companies accepted to the Exchange and 141 companies currently in the application process, over 75 new jobs, a network of over 45 mentors in various industries and over $137 million in capital investment.
Winnipeg has formed partnerships linking employers like Canadian Tire to the University of Winnipeg, an ICT association and other public-private groups to improve the supply of skilled employees. The Composite Innovation Centre (CIC), a public-private R&D organization, has developed technologies and supply chains for high-performance composites based on agricultural materials such as hemp and flax, which reduces costs for employers like Boeing and Magellan Aerospace. CIC’s success has led to the creation of a national consortium, Canadian Composites Manufacturing R&D, to conduct pre-competitive R&D for multiple companies. CIC also has a training program that gives Winnipeg students on-the-job experience and supports skills development in companies.
Closing the Digital Divide
Winnipeg has leveraged its public library system as a way to close the digital divide among citizens. The library provides free access to 350 public computers with Internet access and a variety of MS Office software for public use. Library staff have created online resource guides on topics including employment, health, Indigenous resources, learning languages and consumer information to help patrons access its 40+ online learning databases. The library also provides free computer workshops on topics from basic email and Internet search training to more advanced courses on MS Office software usage. The library’s free WiFi network has seen nearly 500,000 wireless connections made per year since its establishment.
To make its many resources more easily available to the public, the Winnipeg library system has added self-checkout technology and an online information service that tracks questions and answers for future reference by staff. The West End Library branch in Winnipeg became the first in Canada to introduce smart lockers, allowing patrons to pick up and check out requested items outside of library hours. The Winnipeg Public Library has also developed a mobile app, WPL to Go, that allows users to search the catalogue, place holds, browse library programs, find their nearest branch and link to other library functions. In 2020 alone, the library website had over 10 million visits with roughly 1.3 million digital library checkouts of e-books, audiobooks, magazines, movies and music.
The Digital Voices Project originated at Winnipeg’s largest secondary school. Oral storytelling is a vital part of aboriginal culture in Manitoba, and the Project provides students with digital skills training and supports them in building personal, familial and cultural stories across multiple media. The University has established a drop-in facility for inner-city residents, the Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, where visitors benefit from free computer access as well as academic, traditional language and homework help programs. This supplements the free Internet access and ICT workshops available throughout the Winnipeg library system. Among Winnipeg’s most innovative developments for its First Nations residents is the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the first national aboriginal TV network, for which more than 80% of programming originates in Canada. A social media offshoot, APTN Digital Drum, allows aboriginal youth to express their cultural identity and connect with each other.
Home to North America’s oldest ballet company, Winnipeg also has a thriving arts and culture scene. An independent film from two Winnipegers, Indie Game: The Movie, won awards at the Sundance Festival and was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. Funded on Kickstarter, it tells the inside story of the creation of a video game. In its funding, development and ultimate success, the film is a symbol of Winnipeg’s ambitions and achievement.
21 Reasons Winnipeg is One of the World’s Smartest Communities in 2021
For the ninth time in the past 11 years, Winnipeg is on the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 list. The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) is a think tank with a global network of cities and regions. Its mission is to help communities in the digital age find a new path to economic development and community growth – one that creates inclusive prosperity, tackles social challenges, and enriches quality of life. Every year it chooses 21 communities across the globe that excel in six areas that embrace these ideas. Read the full story at economicdevelopmentwinnipeg.com to see all 21 reasons!
Intelligent Community of the Year 2021
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