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Timmins 100th anniversary special
While Timmins marks its 100th anniversary this year and celebrates its past, its future is being guided by current needs and challenges. In 2011, a strategic plan – Timmins 2020 – was conceived to provide long-term direction for the city’s economic and community development.
“From a timing perspective, it originally started because it related to the loss of Xstrata (Copper’s Kidd Creek Metallurgical Site),” said Mayor Tom Laughren. “We really need to diversify and this plan will give us a bit of a template as we move forward planning for the next 100 years.”
The Met site’s closure in 2010 resulted in the loss of more than 600 jobs. “One time in Timmins we had both mining and forestry and that was good since when one was down, the other was up. But forestry has been down for a long time,” he said.
The Grant Forestry OSB mill in Timmins ceased operations in 2006 after its striking workers were locked out.
The mill has since been dismantled following the company’s bankruptcy. Tembec closed its sawmill operations in the city a few years ago.
“From a job perspective, we recovered from Xstrata. Not all the jobs were local but the skilled tradespeople did get jobs,” Laughren said. “We need to create new assessment opportunities for the municipality since we lost about $70 million in assessment between Grant and Xstrata.
That’s not the direct tax dollars but it does pose some challenges for council to balance that.”
The city is no stranger to the economic ups and downs of the resource industries it has relied on but through it all, it has experienced growth and become a regional centre.
The city serves a wide area of neighbouring communities, including those along the James Bay Coast. As a result, the Victor M. Power Airport and the Timmins and District Hospital are serving a population that stretches beyond the city’s borders.
“As we move forward with the 2020 plan the airport will become more and more of a focal point from a regional perspective,” the mayor said. “We are seeing that now.”
The airport recently expanded its passenger lounge and plans are underway to increase its parking capacity.
More improvements are scheduled in the near future since it serves as a transportation base for Victor Mine, De Beers Canada’s diamond mine near Attawapiskat and Detour Gold’s mine currently under construction – Detour Lake Gold Mine – north of Cochrane. Passenger seats have increased since January when Porter Airlines began offering three daily roundtrip flights to Toronto in addition to those offered by Jazz.
The 161-bed hospital is currently the number one reason for people visiting the city due to medical appointments and tests followed by shopping.
“It’s a big economic engine because we have state-of-the-art equipment, great professionals, tele medicine and a partnership with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine,” he said. “The community is realizing we are a regional centre instead of people just saying we are.”
The city’s current growth spurt is being fuelled by mining. Construction projects can be spotted in various locations throughout the city ranging from two new hotels to a bypass road for a mining operation.
In the west end of the city, a new fully serviced industrial park is under construction which will open up about 40 acres of land for industrial and commercial development.
While the city welcomes the new investment, new challenges are also created. “Our two biggest challenges are housing and a shortage of skilled people in all sectors,” Laughren said. “People are looking for housing whether it is affordable or high-end and we do have a group working on that issue.”
A RFP (request for proposal) has been issued for a subdivision the city owns to see if a developer can be found.
Skilled workers are in demand by the mining industry but the city’s employers in other sectors such as retail and hospitality are seeking them as well.
“Is immigration the answer? We are very aware of the situation and we are working on it,” he said. “These aren’t just Timmins issues and many communities are facing the same things we are in terms of housing and a skills shortage.”
The city is well positioned for the future with adequate transportation and telecommunications infrastructure along with government agencies, professional firms and supply and service companies. “A lot of people are talking about doing things and these are stories waiting to unfold. The future looks good right now,” Laughren said .