Opinion Column

Other people’s money

PRED Executive Director Vern May

PRED Executive Director Vern May

How does the landscape of the Portage region change if all local businesses withdraw their sponsor support of sports teams, events and community causes for one full year? Does anyone have an estimate of just how much our local merchants are “taxed” by our demands to contribute financially to the projects that are near and dear to our own hearts? Whether you’re talking about minor sports teams, festivals, fundraisers or community-building initiatives their success all requires someone else’s money. Unless our focus is to continue drawing from the same well until that bucket returns to the top empty, we need to consider the need for growth and expansion of business and industry.
As we build Portage now and into the future, agencies like PRED need to think and act like business. We must be ever mindful to respect our taxpayer-funded activities, while still having the flexibility to market in a way that ensures we’re speaking the same language as potential investors - both foreign and domestic. The focus needs to be on sustainable development.
Sustainable development requires that we are not locked away in an office perpetually filing grant applications in hopes of Provincial or Federal funding that may never come. What happens when those programs get cut through austerity measures as we are currently seeing under the restrictive Provincial budget? Instead, we take ownership of our own fate by growing our tax base and creating new funding sources that encourage our community projects to become more resilient and self-funding in future years.
It is with the focus on “other people’s money” that we need to dismiss the idea of local preference in our procurement policies. Instead, we need to more heavily consider the local impacts and contributions made by any interested party. How will more local jobs be created, retained or expanded? Will supplies and materials needed by any vendor be sourced locally? What support can we expect for those community causes that we have been supporting for a generation or more?
Now, we know that tourism is highly under-rated by at least one municipal administration in our midst. However, dismissing the value of tourism growth ignores the potential to reduce or eliminate community grants and operational funding support. Can we afford to ignore an economy that is at our fingertips? We don’t have to invest millions to attract new industry to make this happen – the attractions and amenities already exist. Now, we simply market them to the best of our ability and relish the fact that visitors from Winnipeg, Brandon and beyond are helping us to meet our bottom line.
The hospitality and travel industry offers the simplest calculations to see the sum of outside money on Portage la Prairie. The accommodation levy collected by both the City and R.M. has created a new channel of regenerating revenue that should readily be viewed as a quick win. This is a sustainable stream of income that we have the potential to influence, increase and expand. Tourism proceeds don’t come from the pockets of you or I, and they can be re-invested for further growth – an evergreening spring of outside funding for our own use. This model has been adopted by the Province with the 96/4 plan. Travel Manitoba’s funding is solely generated by the net tax dollars collected by the Province, re-assigning 4% of those taxes toward continued marketing and development both locally and abroad.
If you’re still not convinced, let me leave you with this one parting thought. If Portage, Oakville, St. Ambroise, Delta Beach isn’t attracting new money, how do we afford current maintenance and future escalating costs? Look in the mirror, because without new money in the community, the only pocket that government has access to reach into belongs to you. Are you now interested to help pave the way for the growth of your business and tourism here? Do you believe that we should be investing today for relief on your wallet tomorrow? 
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 vmay@plprecd.ca, call me at 204-856-5000. Be sure to keep up with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PLPRED.
By Vern May



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