What Sparkles in Sudbury is the Cluster of Mining Related Expertise and Innovation – Stan Sudol

This article was originally published in the Sudbury Star on November 21, 2003 (This is an expanded version of the original article.)

Sudbury’s Mining Cluster Is By Far Its Biggest Asset

Sudbury is one of the most fortunate cities of the 21st century.  In this new age of digitized, globalized commerce, this is one of the few communities in the world that has an internationally recognized cluster of mining expertise and knowledge. That was the reason why the South African trade mission recently visited the city.

There probably isn’t a mining engineer or geologist in North America or the world that has not made a pilgrimage to this “Mecca of mining” at least once in their lives.

For over 100 years, Sudburians have been honing their skills on the richest mining camp in the history of mankind. The total value of historic mineral production and present reserves from the Sudbury Basin exceeds U.S. $320 billion.

However, it is the 275 local mining supply and services companies, not Inco or Falconbridge that constitute the economic cluster that has been highlighted in the local media over the past two years. The knowledge of how to mine, not the mines themselves is the basis of a prosperous future for Sudbury.

Nevertheless, the 14 operating mines in the city that will still be producing nickel, copper and a variety of platinum group metals for the next fifty to hundred years certainly adds to the community’s statue as the world’s centre of hardrock mining excellence.

Clusters are compact geographic concentrations of inter-related industries, service providers and associated research institutions that help create wealth and high-paying jobs through the export of goods and services.

The geographic concentration of clusters, combined with well funded university research programs significantly magnifies the success and power of clusters. The close proximately of competing companies and research scientists and students create an excellent synergy that produces new spin-off entrepreneurial businesses.

The most famous technology cluster in the world is Silicon Valley located in the Californian community of San Jose. The Ottawa suburb of Kanata is well known for its cluster of telecommunications companies, and is nicknamed “silicon valley north.”

Cities that build and promote clusters of innovation and excellence will be able to provide high paying jobs, healthy vibrant communities and most important in Sudbury’s case, retain their out-migrating youth.

Clusters are a driving force for increasing exports and attracting foreign investment. They produce global competitiveness, enhance industrial productivity, a rising standard of living and are an engine for economic growth.

Professor Michael Porter International Cluster Expert

Harvard Professor Michael Porter is the “godfather” or international expert on industrial clusters and their critical roll in the knowledge economies of the 21st century.
Professor Michael Porter is the world’s most sought-after business guru and strategist on the competitiveness and economic development of nations, states, and regions. His ideas on business strategy are taught in virtually every business school in the world.

In 1990, his book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations introduced a new cluster theory of how nations compete and their sources of economic prosperity. The ideas in The Competitive Advantage of Nations and a series of other publications have guided economic policy throughout the world including the U.S. government.

Professor Porter has also served as an advisor to numerous foreign nations and led major studies of the economy for many governments including India, New Zealand, Portugal, and Canada. Many of his recommendations in the early 1990s have been implemented by the federal Liberals.

As previously mentioned, clusters are primarily located in an individual city or a very compact region like Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, the third most important technology cluster in the United States. This cluster includes the communities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, all within a forty-kilometer radius of each other. Ottawa is known as Silicon Valley North, not the entire region of eastern Ontario.

Earlier this year, the recommendation by the Northeastern Ontario Smart Growth Panel to designate the entire Northeast as a centre of mining expertise demonstrates little understanding of how technology clusters form and prosper. Strategic provincial economic policy should not be affected by petty regional self-interest or politics. To nurture a successful cluster, strategic public investment must be concentrated in a compact geographic area.

No North American Competition For Sudbury’s Mining Expertise

There is no competition in North America for this community’s mining supply and services expertise. However, there are three other global “mining metropolises” that have the ability to compete with Sudbury. Kalgoorlie, located in Western Australia, Antofogasta in Northern Chile and Johannesburg, South Africa are all developing mining supply and services clusters that are in direct competition with Sudbury.

All these competitors are aggressively marketing themselves as global centres of mining supply and services excellence and their national governments are investing in strategic educational and research infrastructure.

Make no mistake, this is a brutally competitive environment where technology and knowledge constitute the biggest asset and ability to adapt and survive. It is only a matter of half a decade before any one of them will be able to overtake Sudbury’s present dominant position.

The rapid industrialization of China’s billion plus population is creating an insatiable demand for stainless steel and a wide variety of other minerals. According to the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, over the next fifty years, the world will use five times the mineral resources that have been mined to the year 2000.  In addition, very little major new mining capacity has been developed in the past fifteen years. The future for Sudbury’s supply and services cluster has never looked brighter.

Sudbury will always be known for its rich mining deposits that have contributed enormous wealth and prosperity to the province and country. The community will not support a world class tourism cluster. The community will not support a world class biotechnology cluster. The call centre jobs are a worthy addition, however they are not guaranteed to stay.

Sudbury Must Go Back To Its Mining Roots To Prosper

The past twenty-five years of industrial economic diversification has been an abject failure. All one has to do is look upon the city skyline from the railroad overpass. Since I first left the city in 1977, the year of the first mining layoffs, only one new tower has been built and in the past five years the city’s population has decreased by about 10,000 people.

Sudbury must go back to its mining roots if it wishes to prosper in the new knowledge based economy of the 21st century. The community has a cluster of specialized expertise that will be in great demand in this increasingly metal starved world.

If Sudbury were located in the United States, the potential of this community would be the envy of the entire country.

Sudbury can become the hard-rock mining supply and services centre to the world, known for its cutting-edge innovative technology and expertise.

But do the political, educational and business elites of the city have the vision to make this a reality?  The only potential roadblock is the community itself.

“We have seen the enemy and they is us.” Pogo.