Northwest mining cluster group still in the cards – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – August 22, 2014)

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

Mining supply and service companies in the northwest want to take baby steps toward forming an industry cluster group.

A study commissioned by the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce (NOACC) revealed there isn’t enough of a groundswell of support toward establishing a mining supply association, but there’s definite interest in opportunities for professional development.

The study is an expansion of a survey started by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce a year ago. With funding from FedNor, NOACC hired Crupi Consulting to survey more than 200 mining-related businesses who have indicated they were not in favour of an association at this time.

Thunder Bay chamber president Charla Robinson said companies are willing to support an “event-based” cluster; such staging topical workshops, educational seminars and luncheons; which may lay the foundation for an association down the road.

Robinson said there’s a high level of interest in the cluster idea, but there remain many questions on what the organization would look like, and how much value they would derive in exchange for a membership fee.

Regular event-based gatherings look like a better option to gradually build trust among companies, she said. “We think this is a good first step,” said Robinson. “It allows smaller businesses who really aren’t quite sure to get some education, network and understand the processes better and build toward a cluster in the next few years.”

The first event scheduled is a “Mining Procurement Power Hour” to be staged during the chamber’s Prosperity Northwest conference at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay, Sept. 24.

The procurement managers from New Gold’s Rainy River Gold Project and Rubicon Resources Phoenix Gold Project in Red Lake will be in attendance.
One-on-one networking sessions with these gold miners can be arranged.

Both firms have construction underway for the development of new mines.

“By going the event route,” added NOACC president Nathan Lawrence, “what it allows us to do is build engagement with members a couple of times a year on very topics that are important to them, but not overburden them by throwing another organization into the mix of what’s already in play (with other groups) that are fostering this particular industry.”

More than a year ago, the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation released a mining readiness strategy, taking stock of the economic and social impacts that 10 scheduled new mines in the northwest would have on the region’s economy.

Part of the conversation that followed was whether there was enough business support for an industry cluster group.

One option that was considered was to encourage companies to join the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) or encourage that group to broaden its net to include the rest of the North.

But Robinson said that idea was rejected by suppliers who felt there was too much of a regional disconnect between the northwest and northeast.