It’s Time To Focus On Sudbury’s Globally Significant Mining Sector – Stan Sudol

This column was originally published in the Sudbury Star on October 31, 2003

And turn Laurentian University into the Harvard of the mining sector

Every successful high-technology cluster around the world is anchored by a large engineering school with well funded research programs.  This connection supports the cluster businesses to create and apply new technologies and to successfully compete internationally.

In most technology clusters, many of the start-up firms are spun-off of university research activities. The best example of this is California’s Silicon Valley, the premier high-technology centre in the world and it connection with Stanford University’s renowned engineering faculty.

President Hoover, who graduated as a mining engineer from Stanford, eloquently wrote in 1909, “To the engineer falls the work of creating from the dry bones of the scientific fact the living body of industry. It is he whose intellect and direction bring to the world the comforts and necessities of daily need. … Engineering is the profession of creation and of construction, of simulation of human effort and accomplishment.”

The technology related sectors of science, math and engineering are the wealth creators of any society or country. It is the engineering schools of the world that produce innovative business people like Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple Computer.  With this wealth creation societies are able to afford health care, education, social programs and high quality infrastructure.

Forecasters predict that demand for the 645,000 spots at Canadian universities is expected to increase by at least 30 per cent within a decade forcing institutions to either turn away qualified applicants or expand dramatically. The pressure, which will come from the children of the baby boomers, has not been seen in Canada since the 1960s and 1970s when schools expanded to accommodate their parents.

Fortunately, the new Liberal government in Ontario is committed to an expansion of provincial universities and colleges by 50,000 students over the next five years.

There has never been a better time for this community to put forward a plan to turn the mining engineering and geology programs at Laurentian University into a world class facility. With the right combination of provincial and private sector financial support, this institute could eventually establish itself as the “Harvard of the Mining Sector” and become a powerful magnet in attracting more supply and service firms and industry research.

The best way to do this is by centralizing all of the province’s mining engineering and geology post-secondary programs at the local university.

There are currently three mining engineering programs in the province located at Laurentian, University of Toronto and Queens University in Kingston, all of them under-subscribed. There are eight geology departments, scattered across the province including Laurentian. But none have achieved the critical scale that can attract industry from around the world. 

Sudbury is one of the greatest mining camps in the world

Sudbury is one of the greatest mining camps in the world and is the home of the Ontario Geological Survey, the province’s geological window for the mining industry.

It makes little sense to locate mining engineering and geology programs in cities that have no connection to the mining industry-just as it made little sense to have the offices of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines located in downtown Toronto two decades ago.

The former Liberal government of David Peterson relocated that ministry, including the Ontario Geological Survey to Sudbury and gave this community a significant economic boast.

There will be intense opposition to the idea of letting Sudbury evolve into a mining technology powerhouse from southern universities that stand to lose out.

However northerners must remember all the southern medical schools were opposed to the creation of the new medical school in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, preferring to just increase their own enrollments instead.

Southern universities must put aside their parochial concerns for the greater good of the province. This strategic investment by the Ontario government will not only create the necessary synergy that all successful clusters thrive on, but become an integral engine of the entire northeast’s economic development.

More like Finland

In 2001, the UN ‘s index of technological advancement placed Finland as the most technologically advanced country in the world. The Finns have successfully integrated their northern regions into a dynamic national economy that ensures a high standard of living for everyone.

One of the main reasons for this incredible economic success is the Finnish use of universities and their research potential as pivotal engines of regional development.  One of the best examples of this strategy, and one that Sudbury should copy is the University of Oulu.

Oulu is located in Northern Finland, approximately 160 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle on the Gulf of Bothnia. The city is the commercial and administrative centre for central and northern Finland and has a population of 124,000.

When the University of Oulu was founded, one of the primary goals was to pursue instruction and research connected mainly with the development of the area’s natural resources.  In addition, numerous national funded research centres were established and a technology park was built adjacent to the university.  With more than 2,000 companies and 4,500-plus employees, the technology park has helped turn Oulu into a global wireless and electronics powerhouse.

Of the 46 most globally significant technology clusters identified by Wired magazine in 2000, Oulu Finland ranked 29th.  The number one and two spots went to Silicon Valley in San Jose California and Route 128 in Boston. The only Canadian city to be mentioned on this list was Montreal in 14th place.

Wired Magazine is the “bible” of the U.S. high-tech industry.

According to the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, over the next 50 years, the world will use five times the mineral resources that have been mined to the year 2000. The rapid industrialization of China’s billion-plus population is creating an insatiable demand for nickel and a wide variety of other minerals. 

In addition, the retirement of baby boomer mining engineers and geologists, combined with the decline or closing of many of the continent’s mining engineering schools will require the training of a new generation of highly skilled professionals. 

It is only logical that this training should take place in Sudbury, the greatest mining camp in the world.

The most significant contribution the Ontario Government can make to accelerate Sudbury’s growing mining supply and services cluster is to centralize all the province’s post-secondary mining engineering and geology programs at Laurentian University. 

This will ensure that the Sudbury of the 21st century will be a global hub of mining technology and innovation that will be an engine of growth for the entire northeastern Ontario economy.