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Going Green (9/02)

A German-Canadian wind turbine joint venture may herald the first phase of an emerging eco-industrialism sector in Sudbury.
A German-Canadian wind turbine joint venture may herald the first phase of an emerging eco-industrialism sector in Sudbury.

In building on their two-year-old transatlantic business and development linkages, the city hosted yet another trade mission from Germany, this time from the Lower Saxony region, to further advance Sudbury's agenda toward becoming an international centre for environmental technologies, renewable energies, engineering and construction.

In late August, a representative from the Lower Saxony region of Germany toured Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Manitoulin Island assessing possible matchmaking opportunities for business partnerships.

The first fruits of their labour came last spring with the news of a joint venture between German company REpower System AG and two Sudbury companies, the Consbec Group and Gagnon Renewable Resources Inc., to build wind turbines at a manufacturing plant in the Valley East Industrial Park.

"We view this whole area of environmental technologies and renewable energy as a niche industrial activity," and a key component of job creation, says Paul Finley, project manager for the City of Greater Sudbury's economic development and planning services.

The REpower wind turbine venture is expected to create 90 new jobs, plus hundreds in spinoff jobs, with the potential to quadruple that workforce in 10 years based on potential North American market demand, says Finley.

"We will not become a Silicon Valley, but eco-industrialism will play a major role in this community.

"Sudbury could become a major centre for environmental technology development manufacturing."

Finley expects the wind turbine plant to be the first of many joint ventures that will evolve as the city further pursues development of a relationship with regions in Germany, particularly Barnim County, located in the northeast, in the federal state of Brandenburg.

He expects more news shortly on another form of a renewable energy joint venture "that is equally as significant and could have far-ranging impacts, not just in Sudbury, but in the Northern Ontario economy and have a big impact on the agricultural sector."

As well, a local developer has approached the city with a proposal to create an eco-industrial park.

"Let's face it. Sudbury's chances of getting a car plant are remote. There are bigger centres that are better fits for just-in-time delivery," he says.

And pinpointing unique and revolutionary niche opportunities in eco-industrialism is a concept that Sudburians can capitalize on.

Eco-industrial development is a concept that strives to increase green and clean businesses while expanding local markets.

A typical eco-industrial development links waste from one industry and feeds it to another industry as raw material in a closed-loop system that mirrors natural systems, helping to reduce waste while creating value.

"It's a case where my garbage becomes your raw material, we share common energy sources and recycle supplies with low impact on the environment," says Finley.

It is a specialty sector that the former East Germans are now regarded as world leaders in.

Sudbury delegates used the 2000 German trade mission to Hanover as a springboard to make contacts with business people in the fledgling new economy of the former East Germany, eventually seguing into their burgeoning environmental industries.

Finley says what they discovered in places such as Magdeburg, Dresden and the Elbe-Elster region was a highly educated populace left over from the Soviet regime, a virtual treasure trove of physicists and engineers thrown out of work from the military-industrial complex after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

And like the rest of the former East Bloc satellite states, they were saddled with enormous pollution problems caused by the archaic smokestack Soviet-style economy.

The West German government and European Union poured money into several environmental cleanup projects, which evolved into businesses, transforming the region into a mecca for eco-industry.

"Is that much different from the Sudbury story? We have transformed this city from a black rock to a very attractive urban centre," says Finley, mentioning the wealth of environmental reclamation expertise built up at Laurentian University over the last 20 years with the regreening of Sudbury.

"You know that you can build an industry around that, and the Europeans are doing it," says Finley, "We've seen the devastation. We've also seen what Mother Nature will do when you give her a hand."

Finley says Canadians could learn a lesson or two from the Germans, the Dutch and other eastern European countries in areas of recycling and forestry practices by creating industries that establish responsible use of natural resources and finding use for waste byproducts in forestry, agricultural, electronics, plastics and textiles.

Many of these materials are reformed into composites, such as building products like plastic wood.
And it introduces cutting-edge opportunities for Northern Ontario.

Finley is working on compiling a complimentary companies' agenda, a database of 940 companies in Germany in various industries that he hopes to match up with Sudbury firms in the coming months for another Northern Ontario trade mission to Europe, likely in the spring 2003.

Dr. Greg Baiden, a professor of engineering and Laurentian's chairman in mine automation robotics, who met with Matthias Liske, Lower Saxony's general manager of economic development, says opening a dialogue between one of world's oldest and newest mining schools could spur some potential economic growth in Sudbury.

"Freiberg is coming with collaborative research projects, potential for consulting and maybe company-to-company relationships. "