Sunday, May 18, 2008

CityWest set to show us some money!

"The cheque is not in the mail ... but will be delivered next month." --CityWest Board Chair Gord Howie explaining that CityWest is about to provide a dividend cheque to the city of Prince Rupert.
Part of the night’s information at last Monday’s City council meeting included a presentation from CityWest which outlined some of the exciting opportunities that the telecommunications provider sees in the near future.

Working in a changing environment has provided some challenges for the city owned company, including the lack of a dividend for the city in recent years which traditionally used to provide up to 2 million dollars in revenues for the city.

Recent years have seen CityWest unable to provide that revenue stream due to expenses and costs associated with its expansion plans, but it would seem that may be about to change.

At Monday’s meeting City Manager Gord Howie, who also doubles as chair of the CityWest Board of Directors advised that City West will be delivering a dividend cheque of one million dollars next month.

It will come as a welcome addition to the city’s financial bottom line, but still there are concerns in the community, with a number of questions about the company’s long term plans, financial debt load and the reduced nature of the divideneds in recent years.

In their presentation to City council, CityWest stressed the local nature of their employment force, its expansion plans to take advantage of communications convergence that is ongoing and reviewed some of the features they have added to the service in recent times including cable and blackberry services.

The Daily News featured the details of the “year of opportunity” in Friday’s paper.

City in line for $1m CityWest cheque
Company gives council overview of “exciting year” of opportunity
By Patrick Witwicki
The Daily News
Friday, May 16, 2008
Pages one and two

On a night on which Prince Rupert City Council decided it needed an additional four per cent in tax from Rupert homeowners, CityWest announced that the city, as the sole shareholder in the company, would be receiving a dividend cheque of $1,000,000 this year.

"CityWest is an exciting company, and is working in a continuing changing environment," said City Manager Gord Howie, who also sits as chair of the CityWest board of directors. "The cheque is not in the mail ... but will be delivered next month."

Members of CityWest, including manager Rob Brown, attended council Tuesday night to share their report regarding the 2007 fiscal year, which in Brown's own words, "was an exciting year, and there is opportunity here."

According to CityWest financial statements for 2007, the company's revenue was $20.8 million as compared to $18.3 million in 2006. In the same breath, expenses reached $18.3 million up from $15.9 million but many increased expenses were due to the addition of the fibre link from Terrace to Rupert, in addition to upgrades for mobile phone service.

This meant CityWest wound up with a net income of $2 million in 2007, as compared to $2.6 million in 2006.

Brown said that the key to continued growth for anyone in the telcommunications industry was convergence, and that CityWest intended to continue on that road, while maintaining a local connection to the Northwest, and specifically, in Prince Rupert.

"Our customer base is very valuable," Brown said.

"(That means) cell phone, phone service, cable, internet (including wireless), all as one ... CityWest will be the only company in the region (to offer all of this), plus the added asset of being local."

All told, CityWest staff now comprises 65 employees - 30 more than the company employed back during the days of CityTel. And most of those employees are local, here in Rupert, said Brown.

"We have increased staff in Terrace and Kitimat, but the bulk of that staff is in Rupert, and all services in-house are in Rupert," he said.

Currently, Rupert is the only city where CityWest does offer all services, but the company is busy trying to expand its base throughout the Northwest, since the company does now offer cable from Rupert to Houston following the purchase of Monarch Cable in 2006.

"Many did wonder about the purchase of Monarch, because the company was in poor shape," said Jack Payne, who also sits on the board of directors. "But that was a great strategic move by CityWest."

According to Brown, CityWest's goal is to be providing all five services throughout the Northwest by 2012.

"We're looking at extending our fibre optic (cable) down to Kitimat," he said.

"As we diversify our community, we'll continue to grow."

Brown also talked about how important it was to reach a partnership with Northwestel, which enabled CityWest to hook up with the Bell Mobility National Network.

This allowed CityWest to offer new features including Blackberry service and online browsers on the mobile network.

"Prince Rupert was too small for Blackberry service," said Brown.

"So this gives us access to further growth in this region."

Mayor Herb Pond was pleased with the announcement of CityWest handing over the $1 million dividend, and said the entire community of Prince Rupert benefits from CityWest.

"A million bucks equates to about 10 per cent to the community," he said.

"That's a huge impact. It doesn't come at any extra cost ... but it does bring us significant benefit."

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