Investors like [Ontario] northwest’s blue sky mining potential – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – January 4, 2013)

 Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business

The upcoming construction of a new Detroit-Windsor international bridge crossing may be grabbing all the headlines, but some Wall Street types and industrial movers and shakers think northwestern Ontario is the right place to deposit their capital.

The City of Thunder Bay and its economic development commission took home two awards in October for its mining presentation at the 4th annual North American Strategic Infrastructure Leadership Forum in Denver, Colo.

Steve Demmings, CEO of the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission, and John Mason, mining services project manager, attended the Oct. 15-17 event to promote northwestern Ontario as a future infrastructure construction hot spot.

Their submission of a potential $80-billion stable of between nine and 13 mine projects in the region was enough to sway a jury of forum sponsors to pick Thunder Bay over four other nominated projects for the prestigious Strategic Project award.

“We received the award just prior to us doing our presentation,” said Mason, who filed their submission 10 days prior to the event. “Apparently, that’s the granddaddy of the awards and we were competing against an eclectic group.”

Their “Ring of Fire and Northwestern Ontario Mineral Deposits” beat out nominations from the Michigan Department of Transportation’s $2.1-billion new International Trade Crossing, Los Angeles Metro’s $10-billion Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, the Indiana Department of Transportation’s $2.6-billion Ohio River Bridges-East End Crossing, and Denver’s Regional Transportation’s District’s $450-million North Metro Commuter Rail project.

“When they announced the winner I just about fell out of my chair,” said Demmings.

The pair also brought home the Job Creation Project of the Year Award, which they shared with two other submitted infrastucture projects.

The annual forum regularly attracts more than 500 executives from the public and private sector. It showcases cities, states and provinces with its various innovative infrastructure plans.

“We were in Denver because it was a Wall Street audience and of global engineering companies,” said Demmings, who attended and presented at last year’s show in Washington, D.C.

Mason said they presented the region as one with massive infrastructure requirements spinning out from the break-neck pace of mine development.

“We illustrated what the infrastructure requirements were,” said Mason, who conducted his own research by contacting mining companies associated with 13 mature projects. “The power requirements are up over 622 megawatts in total.

“And we’re going to be short of workers. Existing mines are in expansion mode and mega-projects like Detour Gold, with a 15-million ounce gold deposit, have 1,500 people in their construction camp. It’s mind-boggling the numbers right now.”

What followed afterwards were one-on-one interviews with U.S. financial institutions, software and construction firms looking for opportunities associated with major mining projects north of the border.

Mason said he’ll be following up on the many leads and queries generated at the event requesting information on commodities, equipment needs, and NAFTA rules on the movement of contractors and professional ranks across the border.

With Ottawa and Queen’s Park strapped for cash to invest in infrastructure, Mason said a solution may be expanding the public-private partnership opportunities (known as P3) across Canada.

“The U.S. P3 push is quite different. They actually look at infrastructure banks for money run by state and federal authorities, but there is no co-ordination between the state and feds. And their P3 push on highway or rail projects does not have a stellar track record.

“They haven’t really launched a lot of projects so they’re looking, ironically, north of the border for ideas.”

Mason said the development commission is only too happy to act as a bridge to entice these companies to the northwest and attract investment into the province.

“We see this as an opportunity to cultivate those relationships and go from there.”