Mining will be the saving grace of the Northern Ontario economy while the world’s financial systems continue their rocky path towards recovery, according to voices from the region’s mining supply and service community.
“Mining is the thing that’s going to create real wealth for Northern Ontario,” says Don Dekker, CEO of the Kirkland Lake-based Materials Joining Innovation Centre (MaJIC).
“It makes use of skills and technology developed in the North, by Northerners, and in many ways we’re still considered at the forefront of the industry. This is the answer, and we’re already seeing that reflected in our levels of business.”
Established just two years ago, the not-forprofit MaJIC helps to generate solutions for a variety of industries, with mining-related work now making up the bulk of its efforts. Its newfound list of clients are spread throughout the region, from Sault Ste. Marie to Timmins to Sudbury.
It’s the kind of trajectory that’s expected to be seen through many mining-related businesses through the North, provided they can manage expectations and properly prepare for the future, according to Bob Rappolt, vicepresident of Stantec Mining.
He points to statistics showing that in 2008, the global population sat at 6.4 billion, of which 30 per cent or 2.4 billion was made up of India and China. By 2050, the projected total population will jump to 9.2 billion, with China and India slated to make up smaller portions of the whole as the rate of population growth increases in other industrialized countries.
“There’ll be a whole lot of people over the next 20, 30 years who want just something: a kitchen sink, a toilet or a bicycle or a transistor radio, and they’re going to need our resources and our expertise to provide those resources,” says Rappolt, who spoke on the subject to the Sudbury chapter of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum on April 18.
These growth projections bode well for the mining industry and mark a far cry from 1984, when the now-defunct Business Week ran a front-page cover story, complete with a gold bar as a coffin, declaring mining to be dead, says Rappolt.
While the fortunes of the mining industry have crushed this prediction as the industry is poised for further growth, business leaders must ensure that they are adequately prepared, he adds.
Surviving the hard times requires a quick mind, a steady hand, and no small amount of foresight, he says, and he should know. Having joined J.S. Redpath’s engineeringdepartment in 1987 before becoming responsible for McIntosh Engineering’s Canadian operations in 1993, he’s seen no end of the rise-and-fall associated with the cyclical nature of the mining industry.
“This job is not for the weak of heart,” says Rappolt.
While he jokingly suggests that the solutionto cycle-related business problems is simple -- “We just gotta control the metal prices” -- he argues that real long-term success is to be found through a number of approaches,including diversification.
As an example, he points to potash, which has been big business for Stantec in recent years, and something which Rappolt credits for helping to pull the company through the recession. Recent projects have included work with companies such as BHP Billiton and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS).
When examining new territories in which to do business, Rappolt says it’s also crucial to avoid approaching any country with any pre-conceived notions, as many nations defy conventional perspectives.
To his surprise, a Turkish mine Rappolt visited in early April made use of facerecognition technology to log employees in and out of the site. Conversely, certain advanced countries which he was hesitant to identify have a “horrid” safety performance.
Whatever approach companies take to expand their interests around the world, Rappolt advises being careful about showing respect to existing and potential clients alike. The global mining community, he says, is much closer than it’s ever been, and yesterday’s throwaway contact could shape up to be tomorrow’s prized client as buyouts and foreign ownership bring the world to the North’s doorstep.
“It’s a small world out there, and it’s getting smaller.”