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We would be fools not to: building the cluster (10/05)

I made a pitch the other day to the Ontario Mining Association. It wasn’t that risqué, really.

I made a pitch the other day to the Ontario Mining Association. It wasn’t that risqué, really. I told them that given Sudbury, over and above being the home of Inco and Falconbridge, has a couple of hundred mining service and supply companies and it would be a good place for the Association to plant its flag. This is particularly true given the city they are in doesn’t much notice them, or even appreciate the stunning amount of money many of its natives have made funding the mining industry in Canada over the last 100 years. It is a fact that much of Toronto’s early wealth was built on mining.

But I digress.

As I wrote the speech, I had no idea the Association had never had its
annual meeting outside of Toronto until this year. I was freelancing an idea that made sense to me. I was as nonplused to learn about their Toronto-centric life, as they were about my suggestion they consider a change of venue.

There is good reason for them to come to where the action is.

To begin with, there is a ton of economic research that identifies the obvious power of economic clusters. The official definition to the extent there is one comes from Dr. Michael Porter, a well-known economist (author of “The Competitive Advantage of Nations”) and huge influence on the federal government’s economic strategy over the last decade or so.

“Clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service pro-viders, firms in related industries and associated institutions (universities, standards agencies, trade associations) in a particular field that compete but also co operate.”

My theory on the Mining Association is that it needs its own city-state. A place to mount a hiring and training offensive, where they can shape their own 21st century employment strategy.
A place to launch a political offensive on the role and importance of mining to the economy of the province and the country and a place to encourage the growth of the cluster to help offset the coming consolidation of the mining business, which will take decision makers elsewhere.

A place where they could help concentrate research and development from the mining sector, and address their largest problems, which include overcoming prohibitive energy costs, learning how to deal with first nation communities in Northern Ontario and satisfying environmental opposition to the impact of mines on the landscape.

The process has begun with the 20-percent purchase of Falconbridge by the financial engineering firm Xstrata, located in Switzerland. It is a time for all the people and institutions in the mining sector to work together and that means they need to be together.

On the social side of the equation, my pitch to the association is no different than my pitch to Northern Ontarians.

What the hell are we going to do when we run out of trees and ore?

Will there be anything to show for 200 years of mineral wealth?

Will we have sufficient intellectual capital to continue to be a major player in the mining business because of our know-how instead of our ore. If there is anything left it will be in Sudbury and area, not Toronto.

If we don’t build our cluster we are fools. We will deserve what we get. We have plenty of practice being fools in Canada with pulp mills closing down and fishing grounds destroyed on both coasts as a result of greed and stupidity. Must it happen again? No, but it takes everybody on the same page to avoid it.

Last week Toronto opened the first phase of the $400-million MARS (Medical And Related Sciences centre) project. They have renovated the old Toronto General Hospital and they will proceed to “commercialize scientific discoveries, create a globally significant centre that attracts the best people, bringing together science, business and capital under one roof,” says CEO Ilse Treurnicht.

It is big. It is exciting. It is cluster building.
There will be no MARS for mining in Toronto.

If you want that you come to Sudbury where it is already built.

Michael Atkins is the president of Northern Ontario Business. He can be reached at .