Sudbury booming, but city’s image needs a makeover, mayor says – by Sudbury Northern Life Staff (Sudbury Northern Life – June 21, 2012)

State of the City address highlights economy, challenges

Without a doubt, Sudbury is booming. That was the main message Mayor Marianne Matichuk delivered during her State of the City address, June 21.

But even as the city’s economy is flourishing, skilled labour shortages abound as companies compete to attract workers. The problem for Sudbury, the mayor said in her speech at the Caruso Club, is the city’s image, which, according to Matichuk, isn’t good.

The “stereotypical ideas” of the city are apparently impacting companies’ abilities to attract workers here. “People still think of moonscape, pollution and low-tech mining,” she said. “They still think we have no culture except Sudbury Saturday Night drinking and bingo.”

One of council’s top priorities, Matichuk said, was to change that image. This will be achieved through improved communications and marketing, the redesigned tourism website, and soon-to-be-redesigned economic development sites. She also encouraged all Sudburians to be “ambassadors” for the city.

“This is not just good public relations,” Matichuk said. “With many retirements and ensuring shortages of skilled labour, our future growth and prosperity depends on it.”

The bulk of her address highlighted the booming mining sector, but also touched on past efforts to diversify the economy, the plan for the downtown, the idea for the info-tech park and multi-use conference centre, as well as Sudbury’s growing distinction as, in her words, “Hollywood North.”

“I would like to start off with an amazing number: $6.3 billion,” Matichuk said. “That is the current value of mining investment, confirmed or planned for Sudbury, over the next half decade or so.”

She noted Vale’s $2-billion Atmospheric Emissions Project (Clean AER), as well as its $760-million Totten mine project, which is nearing completion, putting the accent on the $3.5 billion the Brazil-based miner is spending in the community on these and other projects.

Matichuk also touched on KGHM’s (formerly Quadra/FNX) $750-million Victoria deposit project, which she called “one of the most significant discoveries in the last four decades.”

As for Xstrata Nickel, the mayor highlighted its $119-million Fraser Morgan deposit, and the estimated $200-million investment into the company’s smelter, not to mention the $920-million Nickel Rim South project, Sudbury’s first new mine in 30 years, she said.

As the richest mining district in North America, and one of the world’s top four, Matichuk said the mining supply and services sector employs some 13,800 people in the city, more than those who work in the mines themselves.

And in terms of mining research, institutions like CEMI, NORCAT and MIRARCO are helping “turn Sudbury in to Canada’s Silicon Valley of hard-rock mining.”

But research also encompasses the SNOLAB research facility, two kilometres underground in Vale’s Creighton mine. The facility recently officially opened, unveiling many experiments currently underway that are trying to understand the fundamental makeup of the universe through the search for dark matter.

Above ground, Matichuk spoke of the Downtown Master Plan as a “visionary document,” brushing aside criticism that no one knows how the plan will be funded by saying what is important about the idea is that it provides a three-decade guide for evolving the downtown core.

Laurentian’s School of Architecture, Canada’s first in 40 years, is a “tremendous milestone and a great starting point in the transformation of downtown.”

Downtown will also be transformed if plans proceed for an information technology park (Info-Tech Park) and, if the stars align and an agreement for a downtown casino can be struck with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, a multi-use conference centre.

The Info-Tech Park would redevelop some five acres of Elm, Elgin and Lorne streets, creating a self-contained business park for information technology firms.

Matichuk closed out her speech by touching on the burgeoning film industry in the city, noting in particular the opening of the Northern Ontario Film Studios about a month ago, which she attended and had a hand in arranging.

Work is currently underway on the studio in the former Barrydowne Arena, readying it to welcome incoming productions.

Matichuk said it is important to explore this economic avenue because, even though the lifespan of film and TV productions can be short, the amount of money spent in a slim time period is high.

When the film “The Truth”, starring Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria and Forrest Whittaker, shot some scenes in Sudbury back in the winter, nearly $4 million was spent in just a few weeks.

The boost to Sudbury’s “national image” that results from visits by Hollywood stars doesn’t hurt either, Matichuk said.