THUNDER BAY – I realize that most community leaders, business people and economic development types are excited about the opportunities for Northwestern Ontario within the mining sector. The Ring of Fire not only sounds exciting but seems to hold great promise for the future of our economy. Regional communities are busy strategizing and committing resources toward ensuring that their community realizes the benefits and wealth from this development. The Northwest has the resources and the world wants them. Many believe that our economic woes are solved!
This worries me.
I sense that we are once again focused on the resource economy dream. Have we learned any lessens from what happened with the forestry sector? The Northwest’s economy was driven by the forest sector with minimal diversification, innovation and value-added activities. Success was not determined by the innovative capacity of the human resources of our region but by the commodity price of our natural resources. And now with the forestry sector decimated we feel that mining could fill the gap created.
There are a number of case examples that indicate being rich in natural resources does not necessarily translate into economic growth.
A Harvard study indicates “One of the surprising features of modern economic growth is that economies abundant in natural resources have tended to grow slower than economies without substantial natural resources.” [i] The World Bank’s Chief Economist also highlights this dilemma “But, resource-intensive industries, such as extraction, provide very limited job opportunities. When I visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2009, I learned that the country’s famous OK Tedi copper mine generated 40% of public revenues and 80% of exports. However, OK Tedi only provided 2,000 jobs.” [ii]
A mining boom in the Northwest will not automatically lead to an economic boom and long term sustainability.
I grew up in Atikokan and have witnessed the story of a community that was solely dependent on natural resources struggle to survive when prices and other factors beyond their control impacted the viability of their community. The survival of Atikokan has been based on the spirit and commitment of the people of that community and this truly is their biggest and most sustainable resource. Atikokan now has the opportunity for another mining boom.
Can Atikokan and the rest of the Northwest learn from the past and leverage current opportunities to create a sustainable vibrant future?
I hope that we will not be satisfied with simply extracting resources from our region and not moving forward in transforming our economy. We need to facilitate diversification and build human resource capacity. We must recognize that a successful economy will be built on wealth creation through innovation, and the attraction and retention of talented educated people. Vibrant, diverse communities attract the best and the brightest and these people will build a dynamic future.
The Northwest has shown commitment to building a knowledge economy and we can’t afford to lose this focus. The opportunities with mining can be part of the ongoing transformation but should not cause the Northwest to move backward into the resource economy of the past. When I see all of the hype around the mining sector I am concerned. Are we looking for the pot of gold and losing focus on supporting the entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators that can transform this region?
Let’s think strategically and leverage our natural resource riches to build a Northwestern Ontario with a future that does not depend on the price of chromium.
The Innovation Centre acts as a pivotal player in growing Northwestern Ontario’s innovation capacity. We offer support to innovative entrepreneurs, businesses, and community projects in the region of Northwestern Ontario. In addition, the Centre seeks out new approaches to improve, enhance and invigorate a commercialization system in our region. By encouraging ongoing cooperation between business, education and government, the Centre is a driving force to improve economic vitality.
Located in Thunder Bay on Lakehead University campus, the Centre prides itself on creating linkages, engaging entrepreneurs, supporting management, training people, accessing markets, developing and implementing businesses plans, sourcing financing and building success!