Located at the midpoint between East and West Coasts, Winnipeg is the capital of a province rich in agricultural and natural resources. In the 21st Century, the city is pursuing economic growth by better connecting industry and education, while better equipping its large aboriginal population for opportunity.
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.
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 September 2016, the North Forge Technology Exchange has produced 2550 developed prototypes, 75 new businesses, over 75 new jobs and $175 million in new revenue.
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.
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.
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.
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