Growth, the Winnipeg Way

Transportation integration is the key to this growing central Canada city and its airport.

Located mid-continent, this city has a rich history as a transportation hub. Barry Rempel, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority Inc., which oversees operations of Winnipeg International Airport, says officials plan to continue that tradition. The airport recently embarked on a redevelopment program which includes a brand new terminal building and parking structure, while furthering the authority’s vision of creating an integrated transportation facility that will bring all forms of transportation to the airport for the benefit of the community and the province.

Rempel joined the Winnipeg Airports Authority as president and CEO in April 2002. Prior to that, he worked for a property development subsidiary of the Calgary Airport Authority, and held positions with Canadian Airlines International. The Winnipeg Airports Authority Inc. assumed operating control of the Winnipeg International Airport in January 1997. Led by a 15-member board of directors, 11 of which are nominated by seven different public and private sector agencies, and four of which are nominated by the Board, the authority is a non-share capital corporation, which Rempel says follows the Toronto Stock Exchange guidelines and principles for accountability. “So although we’re not publicly traded, we treat ourselves as if we were for accountability transparencies,” he says.

There is a clear delineation between board and management responsibilities, says Rempel. The Board has three standing committees: governance, audit, and AIRplan (responsible for providing guidance on the Airport Infrastructure Redevelopment Plan). And, a community consultative committee, made up of airport users, including general travelers, airport stakeholders, Chamber of Commerce representatives, and others, acts as a sounding board to the broader community, Rempel explains.

The vision statement for the authority is, “To lead transportation innovation and growth.” Rempel is quick to point out that it doesn’t limit itself to air transportation. “And that goes back to the history of this community,” he says. “It’s always been about transportation, whether you go back to the original days as a settlement or even when it was an aboriginal community.” Winnipeg’s central location (some 24 km from the geographic center of North America) on the Red River made it the place for trade. When the railway came to Canada, nothing moved into the country without first going through Winnipeg. “In fact,” says Rempel, “in those days, they called it Chicago North, because it was the same idea — all the rail was coming through Winnipeg.”

In the 1960s, when the trans-Canada highway was completed, trucking companies in Winnipeg “revolutionized” the way distribution in Canada worked, Rempel says. “What we’re hoping to do — and are going to do — is to bring all modes of transportation together for the benefit of the community.”

A Steady Economic Base

Winnipeg is a community of some 700,000 residents. According to Rempel, it is a part of the country that “has been a bit forgotten about through the ‘80s and ‘90s, but is now just really starting to come into its own.” The community is growing, as is the demand at the airport. In 2005, the airport handled some 3.2 million total passengers, a 6.6 percent increase over 2004. Some 12 percent of the airport’s traffic is connection, 88 percent is origination and destination.

In 2004, Winnipeg International was responsible for 21,000 jobs in the province, and $2.6 billion in economic activity for the region.

Rempel adds that the Winnipeg economy is relatively strong and is not one prone to great growth spurts or great depression. “It is the most diverse economy of any of the Canadian provinces,” says Rempel. “We always said that Manitoba grew at 3 percent. It didn’t matter what was going on in the rest of the world, Manitoba grew at 3 percent, and that’s because of the diverse economy. There’s not one major industry here that’s more than 6 percent of the economy.”

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