Look west for growth – by Kris Ketonen (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – February 14, 2013)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Northwestern Ontario mining firms need to take some initiative if they hope to take advantage of a growing mining sector out west, an industry consultant said Wednesday.

“How you get involved is to get out there,” said Lester Cey, president of Saskatchewan’s LPC Consulting, which focuses on helping companies expand into western Canada markets.

“Bring what you’ve got to the table,” he said Wednesday. “Let the market decide whether you can play in our market.”
Cey was in Thunder Bay on Wednesday to address the subject at the Airlane hotel. The focus of Cey’s address was the mining industry landscape in Saskatchewan for 2013 and beyond.

Just before his talk, Steve Matheson, supply chain developer for the Ministry of Economic Development, spoke about opportunities for Ontario’s mining supply and services sector in the Alberta oilsands.

The point, both men said after their addresses, was to shed some light on why Northwestern Ontario companies should look west, and what they’ll need to do to make westward expansions successful.

“The economy in Alberta is growing very rapidly,” Matheson said. “We do know that there are a number of projects that are being planned, they will continue.
“There is a number of major studies that have been done, all the way out to 2035, and it certainly does provide fuel, so to speak, for Ontario manufacturers to get into that market.

“The supply channels have been changing because of new technology,” he said. “It’s not only in the mining sector, but it’s new technology such as the steam-assisted gravity drainage systems.

“Those are creating new engineering needs, and new opportunities for manufacturers.”

Saskatchewan, too, has heavy technology-related needs, Cey said.

“Technology is really, really huge,” he said. “The newer technologies to do things and make it quicker, faster, smarter, easier to produce.

“We don’t, in Saskatchewan, provide all the innovation for technology, obviously,” Cey said.. “We look all over the world to try and find new technologies to be better at how we produce product.

“There are some really neat technologies that are coming out of our province, but we need more. . . . The engineering firms that are overseeing all of these new mining projects that are going on are scanning the landscape, scanning the world, and so undoubtedly (Northwestern Ontario) companies are getting looked at.”

But it will take some effort on the part of the region’s firms if they’re to take advantage of the opportunities, said Mel Sauve of Northern Ontario Exports, a mining supply and services export assistance program which hosted Wednesday’s forum at the Airlane.

“There’s a reluctance on the part of Northwestern Ontario companies . . . to expand,” said Sauve, who’s helped about a dozen regional companies expand their services into the west.

“The first thing I’ve taught them is you’ve gotta look outside your local market, and you’ve got to want to drive the business forward,” he said. “The other part is, you’ve gotta have a marketing and sales program.

“You’ve gotta differentiate yourself, you’ve gotta sell your value, so I’ve taught them a little bit about how to do that,” Sauve said.

“And the last thing is, at the end of the day, you’ve gotta make the calls.

“You’ve gotta find the right contact . . . talk about what you can do for them, how you can solve their problems, add value, reduce their costs, or whatever your product line or service is.”

John Mason, mining services sector project manager with Thunder Bay’s Community Economic Development Commission, said there are “less than two dozen” Northwestern Ontario mining supply companies currently doing work out west.

“That number is expected to grow based on workshops like we’ve had (Wednesday) and the opportunity,” he said. “It’s just an alignment piece, really. The opportunity’s there, and the capacity is here.

“Produce projects here, keep people living in their communities, like Thunder Bay,” Mason said. “Get (the product) to Saskatchewan or Alberta.”

For more information on the Northern Ontario Exports mining supply and services export assistance program, visit investnorthernontario.com.