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Business is good for mechanical contractors and their workers

Contractors in Thunder Bay, and the plumbers and pipefitters union, say the area's economic outlook looks good
A member of the plumbers and pipefitters union works on industrial piping at Venshore Mechanical in Thunder Bay. (Submitted photo)

THUNDER BAY — For members of some unionized skilled trades in the Thunder Bay area, this is an excellent time to be employed.

According to the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario, there was a 45 per cent increase in total working hours in this part of the province last year compared with 2022.

The contractors group and United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 628 both say the outlook for continuing work is bright, and that this reflects the potential for sustained economic growth in Thunder Bay. 

John Jurcik of Venshore Mechanical Ltd. is the president of the local branch of the contractors' association.

"The surge in working hours and the flurry of construction and mining activities in Thunder Bay are testament to our region's resilience and potential," he said in a prepared March 19 statement.

"We are optimistic for what the future holds for our members."

The contractors' group and a union official cited numerous ongoing projects including the new provincial jail, the waterfront art gallery, a new hotel on Oliver Road, three apartment or condo projects, the new gold mine at Geraldton, and various proposed potential lithium mining and processing operations, such as one recently announced for Red Rock.

In a joint news release, they said the city is positioned to capitalize on an anticipated boom in lithium demand, which would provide several years' worth of additional work for skilled tradespeople.

Lucas Szwajda, business manager for Local 628 of the plumbers and pipefitters union, stated: "The consistent demand for skilled trades remains unwavering year over year. The majority of our workforce is employed."

Currently, the local has about 300 members. 

Both groups believe the job numbers in this sector suggest Thunder Bay's overall economic outlook looks good, saying "Thunder Bay is poised for a period of sustained economic growth and prosperity."

They also feel it's a positive sign that there's diversity in the sector, with 50 per cent of service contractors engaged in residential, commercial and institutional projects, and 50 per cent in industrial work.

If the current trend continues, they said, more people are going to be needed in Thunder Bay to meet the demand for skilled trades.

"We're optimistic about what the future holds for our members and are confident in their ability to tackle these projects on budget, on time," Jurcik said.

At an event in Thunder Bay last fall, the provincial government announced a $7-million investment in skilled trades training in Northern Ontario.

The government said this was a response to what it described as a looming critical shortage in trades such as ironworking and welding.

Szwajda said the plumbers and pipefitters union itself has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in ensuring its members have the highest standard of skills and safety training.

In an interview, he added, "There is a shortage of skilled labour, but to have skills you've got to have the training, right? That's one of the things the union really prides itself on."

It operates a training facility in Thunder Bay that's proving to be too small, so it will soon be getting a 1,300-square-foot addition.

— TBnewswatch