The Thunder Bay Advantage


The City of Thunder Bay and the surrounding area is on the verge of some major development, opportunities  for which they must be prepared. It is with this goal in mind that the City of Thunder Bay is taking the proactive approach of coming up with a document that specifically addresses the fields likely to have the greatest impact on the region’s ability to capitalize on these opportunities: the mining readiness study.

The Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation Mining Readiness Strategy, described by John Mason, Project Manager, Mining Services (Community Economic Development Commission) as “an aggressive plan that will look at transportation, energy, skilled trades, labour, business development,” among other facets, is the work of “a partnership of three”: the City of Thunder Bay, Fort William First Nation, and the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (TBCEDC) along with secondary funders.

The report, developed by SNC Lavalin in association with Edward Hoshizaki Development Consulting, is a massive undertaking. So far $500,000 has been invested into the plan which examines almost a dozen critical factors and is scheduled to be ready by February 2013 as Northwest Ontario, hard-hit by the downturn of the forestry sector, readies to profit from projects that in some cases represent decades of mine life.

The main benefit, says Mason, is “to prepare the community for what’s coming at us all in terms of opportunities — and there are huge opportunities.”

“We’re not going to sit on our hands,” says  Mason. “We have the opportunity to be proactive, aggressive, and work with industry, that’s really what this starts with.”

The study is also an awareness piece of sorts for the federal and provincial levels of government, one that is meant to illustrate that partnership with these governments, “is crucial as we all go forward together,” says Mason. “There are huge implications on these big projects with respect to corporate and personal income tax as well as elevating employment levels.”

Specific goals and objectives of the report are as wide-ranging as identifying opportunities for the establishment of exploration offices in Thunder Bay, to working in concert with service and supply businesses to cultivate opportunities for services and supply chains that would feed exploration and mining in the region.

“It’s a major project that’s going to be a catalyst to improved quality of life from housing to airport development to construction within communities to road and transportation.”

One area in which the TBCEDC is being “quite aggressive;” says Mason, is that of branding, “because Thunder Bay is pictured quite often as not really being a mining town, but really it’s a regional exploration and mining service centre, that’s the moniker I use for it. The tag line is ‘the Thunder Bay Advantage.’ “

In Demand

Thunder Bay’s biggest advantage might be as straightforward as the sheer wealth of mineralization to be found in its environsment.

“We’re a global economy; everything we have in the ground or on top of the ground is in demand by 33 per cent of the world’s population,” says CEO of the TBC-EDC Steve Demmings. “Those resources are found largely in Northern Ontario. We have resources that the rest of the world needs, wanting to grow their developing economies.”

Even on the basis of the mines scheduled to come on stream over the next four years the employment opportunities are immense: something in the order of 16,000 direct and indirect jobs are likely to flow from those mines.

The trick is for the City of Thunder Bay to be ready.

“What we have underway is a huge economic development opportunity,” says Demmings, “for which we’re going to have to think very strategically on how we get all those skill sets to this region.”

Certainly those jobs are not likely to be filled by the community as it is. In fact, a campaign of advertising is necessary, both locally and at the international level, to draw people with the requisite skill sets to the area.

Interacting with various levels of government is also a necessity, says Demmings.

“We have to ensure that we work hand in glove with the federal government and the provincial government on immigration strategies to ensure we get the skill sets here,” a task made all the more challenging by the fact that in doing so Thunder Bay is competing for welders and machinists, geologists and mining engineers with the rest of Canada, not to mention other countries.

The Commission is also consulting with the local institutions of higher learning in an effort to ensure that locals are equipped with the skills likely to be in highest demand.

“We are taking a very proactive approach,” says Demmings, “and there is no better example of that than the mining readiness strategy.”

Energy, Environment

Other elements critical to “our ability to employ those 16,000 people and contribute meaningfully to the GDP of the province of Ontario” include the provision of abundant energy and plans for environmental sustainability not only to satisfy the key environmental tests that must be met by the province and federal government, but also because “it’s very important that the stewards of environmentalism be respected,” says Demmings. “The Aboriginal community is also very concerned because so much of this development opportunity is on their land so it has to be sustainable.”

Indeed, Demmings emphasizes the necessity of consulting the Aboriginal community “early and often,” saying “it’s absolutely critical that we engage the Aboriginal community and develop common ground and consultation right from the outset to ensure we are all successful in harvesting the resource.”

With infrastructure “absolutely key to drive the economy,” Thunder Bay is well-placed, already equipped with good port, rail, and road access. “But we need excellent infrastructure,” says Demmings. “We need infrastructure that goes west and east to places like China and India. We need to link into the supply chain of  Western Canada and to the south.”

Community engagement is an area already well in hand, with community meetings occurring regularly since June of this year.

“We have a very ambitious time frame,” says Demmings. “We have two major rounds of consultation locally during the fall and that process will continue over the next three years.”

The time frame is short, and the plans are ambitious, but as Mason points out the mining readiness plan is nothing if not dynamic.

“Its not going to sit on a shelf,” says Mason. “It’s going to be an active document.”