Are we inspired or just covering the bases?

by Vern May
Where is the pharmacy in Banff, Alberta? Chances are if you can answer that question your vacation didn’t go quite as you planned. I’ve visited the mountain community many times and that’s not a local amenity that stands out in my memory. Surely they have one, but it isn’t the hallmark experience that I have taken away and now share with others who identify they are thinking about going.
I pose this question because often when we consider business development we don’t think about what inspires our passion but instead what meets our needs. What service don’t we see locally that we think would do well here? It may surprise you to know that while some entrepreneurs are asking that specific question, many are more interested in launching a business that we haven’t considered. Yes, those essential services are needed and appreciated, but do they create our unique commercial and emotional identity that visitors want to share with others? Maybe our growth isn’t tied to simply covering the bases, but creating a product, service or experience that is truly one of a kind.
When we look at vacant buildings or lots in the city and the surrounding municipality – what vision do we see taking shape? It might look quite differently to the individual who is going to put their money where their mouth is.
Building a successful business is not just a matter of identifying a need and creating a mechanism to bridge that gap. I was reminded of this when I had the opportunity to attend the Portage Collegiate Entrepreneurial showcase recently. What I saw from the dozen or so pitches was a personal investment in ideas and products that held a significance to each presenter. It was a collaboration of a recognized market need and talent and interest of the individuals that was on display. That passion, if nurtured, may well see the next generation of entrepreneurs contribute to the landscape of what “downtown” looks like over the next ten or twenty years. I can tell you that if was there with a business grant cheque to endorse a start-up that I believe has a good chance to succeed, it would have been issued. Sean Hopps’ program is creating some future business leaders that we need to keep an eye on.
A generation ago, we were still reeling from the start of the migration of our homegrown stores to a regional hub. As retailers pulled up stakes and moved out of the market, we looked to replace them with similar companies. Many of our neighboring towns lost their local car dealerships, local jewelry stores, their independent furniture merchant, the print shop and photo studio. Even as the urban center that serves so many within a wide radius around us, even Portage wasn’t exempt from those trends either.
What may have seemed unfathomable at that time to fill our vacant storefronts are now ideas that are re-igniting the vitality of business districts. Fueled by the enthusiasm and passion of those entrepreneurs, they are creating a new benchmark for what’s possible outside the bustling metropolis of Winnipeg. That same success can be (and is) happening here. It’s a movement that we need to embrace and support. Individually, these entrepreneurs are creating the unique attractions and amenities that will set us apart from the next stop on anyone’s road trip. Though it may be increasingly more difficult to maintain a unique identity by product, it is possible by brand and through service.
This weekend, you will find me at the Chamber Home & Business Expo at Stride Place and I welcome the opportunity to connect with each of you in person. Let’s talk about what we see for the future of our area and what opportunities are on the horizon for business and industry. We can discuss what we need as a community, what we want to see take shape, and let’s brainstorm about “if that lottery win comes in this week” how would you like to invest that money to fuel your own soul and alter the business landscape. I also invite you to come down and talk about the work that PRED is currently doing and tell me whether we’re on target or missing the mark.
Opportunity is knocking in the Portage region so let’s answer the door. You can find me in the office at 800 Saskatchewan Avenue West, reach me by e-mail at, call me at 204-856-5000. Be sure to keep up with me on Facebook at

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