Building a mining ‘hub:’ Is Thunder Bay ready for the big rush? – by Stephen Lindley and John Mason (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – September 15, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

With the establishment of a chromite processing facility, currently planned for location
in Sudbury, Ontario’s production capacity could rival that of the top three global
producers, namely South Africa, Kazakhstan and India, making it one of the most
important sources of chromium in the world. (John Mason and Stephen Lindley)

John Mason leads the mining readiness strategy and is project manager of mining services at the Thunder Bay Community Economic Commission (CEDC). Stephen Lindley is project manager and vice-president of aboriginal and northern affairs with SNC-Lavalin in Toronto.

The City of Thunder Bay, the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) and the Fort William First Nation (FWFN) have recently initiated a Mining Readiness Strategy — An Integrated Regional Economic Development Plan. Scheduled for completion in January 2013, with implementation throughout 2013-15 and beyond, the region of Thunder Bay is taking the necessary steps to develop a nationally and internationally acclaimed “hub” for mineral exploration, production and related economic activity in Northwestern Ontario.

Mining and its associated industries is an important sector of the global economy and Canada is recognized as a world leader. Ontario leads all provinces in mineral production, at over $10 billion annually. Growth rates in gold exploration alone, in Ontario, are quickly outpacing those of the historic global leaders such as South Africa, Peru and Russia.

Although mining is still a relatively small sector in Northwestern Ontario by output, the region produces one-third of Canada’s gold annually and is poised for growth. Exploration expenditures in Northwestern Ontario reached a record $475 million in 2011.

Located in remote north central Ontario, the Ring of Fire is a highly mineralized belt rich in mineral resources and poised to become one of only a small handful of world-class supplies of chromite to the international steel industry. Current estimates of the amount of chromite in reserve in the region rival that of the world leaders.

With the establishment of a chromite processing facility, currently planned for location in Sudbury, Ontario’s production capacity could rival that of the top three global producers, namely South Africa, Kazakhstan and India, making it one of the most important sources of chromium in the world.

What does all of this mean for the Thunder Bay region?

To develop successfully, the mining industry will require infrastructure such as all-season roads, rail, and air transportation systems to access the resources; a reliable supply of power, requiring generation facilities and transmission lines to power the extraction and processing of the minerals; educational facilities at all levels to ensure there is a pool of job-ready skilled/trained workers; strong banking capabilities to provide the financing necessary to capitalize the facilities that are required; serviced industrial lands and a competitive tax structure to provide the economic incentives needed to attract processing and even post-production manufacturing facilities to the area; an efficient modern port to facilitate the cost-effective delivery of products to the international marketplace; and a host of related businesses, all working together to provide the economic foundation needed to support the growth of the mining sector in Northwestern Ontario.

Local economies are the winners. Most of the producing mines in Northern Ontario are located in or near small communities such as Red Lake, Marathon and Manitouwadge, producing jobs and spin-off benefits which are important to the health of Ontario’s northern economy, especially as the forest products industry continues to battle significant global economic challenges.

Adding to that, the mining sector is one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in Canada and is increasingly contributing to the social and economic development of Aboriginal communities throughout the country. But is the Thunder Bay region ready for that growth?

The Mining Readiness Strategy, guided by the mayor, chief and council and the CEDC, is being developed by a talented, multi-disciplinary project team made up of experts from within the City of Thunder Bay, CEDC, FWFN and industry, business, and educational leaders, all with extensive experience living and working in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.

SNC-Lavalin Inc., a Canadian-owned world leader in the engineering and construction industry, together with Ed Hoshizaki Development Consulting, a highly respected planning and economic development firm based in Thunder Bay, have been retained to lead the study.

The success of the plan lies in the hands of local residents, northern municipalities, First Nations, and private and public sector leaders. Now is the time to engage, collaborate and contribute to shaping the long-term and sustainable economic future of the Thunder Bay region for the next seven generations and beyond.

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