Thunder Bay should be the base for a “Knowledge-based” World Class Mining Centre

The Sleeping GiantTHUNDER BAY – Alberta is seen as Canada’s energy capital. The massive oil, natural gas, and oil sands in Alberta and Saskatchewan are fueling the massive economic growth across the west. Calgary is the brains in the energy sector, and Edmonton and Fort MacMurray are the muscle.

There is, should we here in Northwestern Ontario take this as a model, for a similar one for Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Greenstone with reference to the mining opportunties in The Ring of Fire.

Thunder Bay should be the base where important decisions are made on mining in Northwestern Ontario. As well our city can be where the research and analysis can be completed. Additionally, for Northern Ontario and beyond, Thunder Bay can be the destination for sample inspection, analytical testing, and advisory services for the minerals, exploration, and mining industries. We would likely within a short period of time develop a global network of state-of-the-art laboratories.

Sudbury can be the processing site for the ferrochrome processor. Greenstone can serve, in conjunction with Thunder Bay as the distribution point for materials needed onsite in the mines.

Ring of Fire map

Such a move fits in tightly with Thunder Bay’s Strategic Plan. While the Strat Plan says we will aggressively pursue the chromite processor, more importantly in the long term it says, “We will grow and attract more technology and knowledge-based/research companies”.

Our strategic plan also states Thunder Bay will “Pursue the development of a Mining Centre of Excellence in conjunction with the private sector, training and educational institutions such and Lakehead University and Confederation College, and urban and regional Aboriginal organizations.”

For Thunder Bay, our community has set a goal over the past ten years of transforming from a mill town to a “knowledge-based economy”. Now, to be perfectly clear, and to make sure there are no misunderstandings, the work done in a mine, at a paper mill, saw mill still requires knowledge. However when referencing a “knowledge-based economy” the term means that the goal is the production of knowledge, and the management of knowledge and information.

Look at it this way, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s economic boom has workers leaving our city, some on a two week rotation coming and going from our community to the jobs in the west. The knowledge-based sector however would have employees in Thunder Bay staying here in our city. Thirty years from now, after the mines have wound down, we would be a global knowledge centre for mining.

Knowledge is global.

Perhaps the goal with the Ring of Fire should be that all of us start viewing ourselves as Ontarians, and we look toward what is the most economical to ensure that the success of the mine, the ferrochrome processing facility, and any resulting tertiary industries are there for all Ontarians.

The mining industry is primed for the greater use of knowledge.

David Humphreys, in a presentation to mining giant Rio Tinto says, “The knowledge-based economy has profound implications for the mining industry.The broad stimulus to economic growth brought about by the proliferation of Information and Communications Technologies(ICTs) has benefited global mineral demand as has the specific reliance of these technologies on electrical products and power generation. On the supply side, ICTs have contributed to consolidation in the mining industry by creating a range of new economies of scope. Associated with the emergence of the knowledge economy has gone a shift in the location of where valued is added in the mining industry away from discovery and the deployment of capital towards the application of intelligence to known deposits and to improvements of capital efficiency. In addition, changing social expectations have broadened the range of knowledge that is relevant to success in mining, adding a new dimension to competitive advantage in the industry”.

Thunder Bay has been working very hard, with the medical school, medical research, forestry research, and DNA research to convert our economic base. The transition to a new economy is an important component for the city’s future.

In Thunder Bay we have been hard at work laying down the foundation for a new knowledge-based economy. Now it is time, for our city, and our political leaders to start making sure that base has the right engine, right tires, and the right support to actually make that race car a winner on the track.

There is a Chinese proverb worth consideration:

If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain.
If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees.
If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.

The North Superior Workforce Planning Board in their 2009 Report stated, “Northwestern Ontario and Thunder Bay’s traditional economic pillars have been transportation, natural resources and government. These three pillars are in the process of evolving into a new economic base that can most succinctly be described as value-added, knowledge creation, and services. Northwestern Ontario’s economy must transition to a value-added knowledge culture that generates high-end products and services based on the traditional resource-sector and transportation activities, as well as in the new areas of health research, education and the bio-economy. The knowledge economy spans across all economic sectors, as the application of innovation and technology is as pertinent to traditional sectors such as retail/service, forestry, manufacturing and mining as it is to new emerging economic streams such as bio-technology, communications and waste management. (Source: http://www.nswpb.ca/assets/files/BuildingASuperiorWorkforce_Update.pdf)

In our region we have, in the past focused on primary resources. We have ridden the boom and bust cyclical nature of those primary resources. What we have done perhaps is focus on the smaller market in our backyard, but have missed global opportunties.

Today, with global knowledge, we have the opportunity to have Thunder Bay as a focal point in providing the needed knowledge to mining, forestry, and transportation are all present in our local economic mix.

The opportunities for long-term and stable growth, and solid good paying jobs are available. While our region, geographically will always be subject to the market, perhaps it is worth considering that there is always somewhere that the economy is booming, and where the knowledge we possess and distribute is going to be needed.

Thunder Bay is an emerging community. We have a strong and prosperous past, we have survived economic storms, and are stronger for it. Our future in the Emerging Thunder Bay is a strong one that will be as bright and prosperous as we dare to make it.

James Murray, et al
Chief Content Officer