“A Small Town Feel with a Big Business Opportunity”

The town of Marathon, located on the north shore of Lake Superior, midway between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, owes a lot to Canada’s richest ever gold deposit. The gold, discovered at the uninhabited area of Hemlo, Ont., 40 kilometres east of Marathon, translated into three gold mines by the late 1980s. The Hemlo gold deposit remains one of the largest gold discoveries in North America.

Owned by a number of mining companies through the past decades, both the remaining mines of David Bell Mine and Williams Mine are currently owned and operated by Barrick Gold, who in 2010 bought out the final share of a joint venture partnership to form the Hemlo Operations. Both mines have much still to give; David Bell Mine is forecast to produce gold until 2014, and Williams Mine life extends to at least 2020, with studies underway to expand the life span of the mine “beyond 2026,” says Marathon Mayor, Rick Dumas.

Meanwhile, Stillwater Canada Inc. is working to develop the largest platinum group metals and copper resource in Canada, 10 kilometres north of the town, with plans to commence construction in 2014 and production in 2017. The potential business growth and employment opportunities this development brings to Marathon and the surrounding communities are immense. No wonder Marathon sees itself as the heart of Ontario’s mining district.

Location, Location, Location

It doesn’t hurt that Marathon, with a population of almost 4,000, is the largest commercial service centre between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.

Within a four hour drive in any direction is up to 250,000 customers, clients, and employees from surrounding cities. Location puts it a day’s drive from Southern Ontario, Western Canada and the midwest united states, and thus in reach of millions of potential customers and visitors.

Competitive tax rates for residential, industrial and commercial businesses also count in Marathon’s favour, as do the town’s competitive development costs, water rates, an exceptional transportation system, low cost telecommunication systems and a workforce aged for the most part between 20 and 54, all of which are attractive features catching the attention of small and big businesses alike.

Of mining, Marathon’s most profitable business, Bob Hancherow, Manager of the Marathon Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) says “the sky’s the limit.” He notes that separate studies carried out by both the MEDC and the Marathon and District Community Adjustment Centre identified the certainty of a shortage of specific trades necessary to mining operations including heavy equipment operators, underground and surface miners, millwrights, industrial mechanics, engineers, and truck drivers; a labour shortage the town is taking measures to address.

Labour Force Measures

Hancherow is keenly aware of the issue of a potential labour force shortage and says the town is seeking to address this possibility in a number of ways.

“We recognize the skilled labour limitations,” Hancherow says, “and see what is required and how do we fix that.” The strong partnership between the town and Confederation College is only one component of the plan. Hancherow says the MEDC has four priorities in cultivating a workforce for the mines, the first being youth. “If there’s no opportunity for youth, then they have to go elsewhere to get educated and/or find jobs.” In practical terms this means that the MEDC, employment professionals and industry visit schools on a mission to dispel the misconception that not all mining careers/jobs are blackened workers in hardhats. As Hancherow points out, many possible career opportunities are associated with mining “from engineers to corporate scientists; there are truck drivers, mechanics, technicians, and more … we need to go into the schools and let them know this.”

Women are another focus of interest in addressing future labour shortages, with Hancherow pointing out that more and more women are entering the mining industry. “We need to see what sort of jobs women would be attracted to, be it hygienists, environmental scientists, or anything else that might entice them.

“We also need to maintain strong partnerships with our First Nation neighbours. We know it’s a growing population and working with them to identify priority training needs is vital. This is an opportunity for all.”

Immigration is the final locus of interest, with Hancherow noting the “huge opportunity for immigrants” and saying that the town would need to account for the culture shock that some immigrants could experience. “We need to make them comfortable in the community.

“We’re looking at an applied mining training centre with an innovatve centre concept. Indeed plans include Marathon becoming a training area for other mines, and with the possibility of training programs being offered through Barrick, unlike any other in North America. As well as practical hands on training, we will be offering job readiness programs … it could be soft skills, computer training, literacy and basic math skills – a whole host of opportunities.”

As to other services the mining industry is likely to need, Hancherow speaks of the potential for partnerships with larger centres. “We might not have full time accountant services, but we have satellite offices. We might not have full time mining engineers, but we have satellite office space for those people. It’s all good news, it looks bright. We have to do it right, be proactive and diligent, and let people know that Marathon is open for business.”

Quality of Life: Second to None

The town’s quality of life is itself a significant draw.

There’s no doubt that the town of Marathon has a great deal going for it. Hancherow calls Marathon “a small town feel with a big business opportunity. Quality of life is a trademark of the town.”

Knowing that it’s not enough to attract the labour force – “we also have to retain them,” Hancherow emphasizes the town’s many amenities including well developed and progressive healthcare, social services and education. Recreational facilities are a draw, including the only indoor swimming pool between Thunder Bay and Sault Saint Marie, world class cross country skiing, snowshoeing, an outstanding golf course, Pukaskwa National Park offering 625 square miles of wilderness parkland, summertime camping and fishing, fall hunting and provincial parks such as Neys and White Lake close at hand.

As Hancherow says, Marathon provides a “strong quality of life, and is always promoting and targeting a wide variety of life enjoyment opportunities for a small community.”

Mayor Dumas concurs, noting the push for Stillwater to look at opportunities for hiring people within Marathon as well as neighbouring communities citing the beneficial impact permanent workers have on such municipal items as school systems and recreational activities. “We’ve made it clear we’re willing to work with Stillwater,” he says, and to that end “about 20 single home dwellings are available for build with an area available for redevelopment for multi-unit town homes or apartment buildings.”

It’s no surprise that Marathon is so accommodating, as Hancherow emphasizes, “It’s all about communication and cooperation, and making sure we enhance our services to the mining and exploration companies as well as the businesses here today.”