“The mining engineering firms in Thunder Bay are handling challenges and contracts around the world. Whether it be copper in South America, potash in Saskatchewan or gold in Northern Ontario, firms in Thunder Bay are handling these projects,” he said.
The plan includes working with the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) to promote Thunder Bay as an ideal location for a branch office.
“We don’t have a major mine contractor in Thunder Bay,” said Mason. “We don’t have a Redpath, a Dumas or a Cementation. Those firms are active in the northwest … but I would welcome them to think about establishing a branch office here.”
Mason said other challenges include a lack of business space for supply and service companies and a shortage of geologists, mining engineers, drillers and metallurgists.
In a report to city council in September, Mason outlined ongoing plans to continue Thunder Bay’s development as a regional exploration and mining service centre. Currently, there are more than 1,200 local residents employed in exploration, mining and related service and supply sectors and Mason said he anticipates this number will grow.
A major focus of Mason’s role is to help stimulate job and business creation in the exploration and mining industries. Since beginning his newly created position in June, Mason has been identifying service needs of companies located in Thunder Bay and other northwestern Ontario communities through ongoing meetings with management at producing mines and major exploration companies.
Mason said another goal is to meet one-on-one with more than 80 local service and supply companies to help them connect with exploration and mining companies. The action plan includes improving communication between active exploration companies and service and supply providers, and fostering new opportunities for growth in these sectors.
Active mines in the northwest region include Goldcorp’s operations in Musselwhite and Red Lake, Barrick in Hemlo and North American Palladium at Lac des Iles. In terms of exploration, Cliffs Natural Resources and Noront Resources Ltd. are heading major projects in the controversial Ring of Fire area northeast of Thunder Bay. Goldcorp and Rubicon Minerals Corporation are working in the Red Lake area, Rainy River Resources Ltd. is in the Fort Frances area, Bending Lake Iron Group Ltd. is exploring the area northwest of Atikokan, Osisko Mining is working near Atikokan, Premier Gold Mines Ltd. is exploring near Geraldton and Stillwater Canada Inc. is working on a project near Marathon.
Mason said he expects some major projects to go into production within the next three to five years.
“They’ll have huge requirements in terms of human resources and materials, supply and services,” he said.
While Thunder Bay is still in its infancy in terms of providing services and supplies for the mining sector compared to cities like Sudbury, local suppliers and service providers are kept busy with some of the mining projects currently under way.
“Over 300 (Thunder Bay-based) service and supply companies in the last eight months dealt with North American Palladium, so there are huge opportunities,” said Mason.
North American Palladium’s current expansion at Lac des Iles includes sinking a shaft and constructing a headframe for underground access to four palladium deposits. Thunder Bay-based Coastal Steel is constructing the main headframe.
The CEDC’s website has a section dedicated to the mining sector and features a goods and services directory webpage listing a variety of providers – from assay firms to drillers, engineering companies, grocery retailers and transportation firms.
Another major focus is the encouragement of aboriginal business development, according to Mason. To achieve this goal, he plans to meet with First Nation business leaders, the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund, the Ring of Fire Secretariat and the Fort William First Nation.
Another goal focuses on developing and maintaining relationships with northwestern Ontario municipalities, including Atikokan, Greenstone, Marathon and Dryden, to explore joint business and exploration employment opportunities.
“I see Thunder Bay working in concert with other municipalities,” said Mason.
Looking farther afield, Mason plans to target South America, Mexico and Western Canada to promote new opportunities for Thunder Bay-based service and supply companies with the help of the provincially run Mining Supply and Services Export Assistance Program. So far, four local companies are enrolled in the program and Mason is hoping to recruit an additional four.
He also wants to attract more exploration companies to Thunder Bay, which would stimulate the service and supply sector. There are currently 21 junior exploration companies in the city, employing about 115 people.