The City of Greater Sudbury has rolled out the red carpet no less than 10 times this year for international trade delegations coming to see the city’s expertise in mining and hear the story of the environmental remediation of its once-devastated landscape.
The payoff has been low-key but still very significant, according to organizers who have worked to entice these groups by teaming up with government, the mining and supply companies, and post-secondary educators.
“The key word is 'partnerships' because these are happening from many different partners from all levels of government,” said Scott Rennie, a business development officer with the city, who is also the project manager for Northern Ontario Exports.
Rennie said the Colombian mining group that arrived in Sudbury in early October came about thanks to the city’s relationship with the trade commission services in Global Affairs Canada.
The group included representatives from Gran Colombia Gold, Anglo Gold, Minesa and the Colombian association of mining professionals.
“Other delegations have come through with connections, for example, with NORCAT (a local technology and innovation centre), through connections with the province, they could be through connections with Laurentian University, and more. We have had delegations just come and approach us; sometimes they come from the trade branches of other countries,” Rennie explained.
He said the city regards it an integral part of its economic development role to be involved.
“Clearly Sudbury is becoming known globally as a hot spot for underground mining innovation of all types whether it is automation, digitization, autonomous vehicles, robotics and all the various things going into modern mining.”
The actual minerals and mining activity in the Sudbury basin is a big global draw.
“The nickel sulphides are the kind of stuff that is going to help us win the war on climate change,” Rennie said, referencing the growing acceptance of electric vehicles, both for public roadways and mining vehicles.
Sudbury is also well regarded for its regreening success story.
The city was once known for its unsightly landscape and smokestacks that generated so much air pollution and acid rain. But in the late 1970s a concerted effort began to stop the pollution and regenerate the land and the lakes.
Rennie said that environmental story resonates with many countries that have suffered industrial abuse.
“They are coming to learn more about how we did it...as a city, as Laurentian University in partnership with the mining companies, Vale and Glencore, and their environmental teams. Also with the ongoing work that is still happening.
“What we’re seeing in the mines is a lot more clean technologies and a lot more environmental remediation technologies coming to the fore now, to both make mining cleaner, to clean up after the fact to get towards that goal of zero emissions.”
Rennie added there are countries around the world that have “distressed environments” from unchecked mining activity. Delegates arrive to see that these problems can be reversed based on what has happened in Sudbury.
“There is also that broader corporate social responsibility. They want to learn as much as possible on how mining can help to build economic development in their areas. They want to learn about key topics like engagement with First Nations, they want to engage in key topics like increasing, improving the status of women.”
The cost to host these delegations for the municipality has been minimal, usually because of partnerships with mining companies and other government agencies.
Rennie said on a handful of occasions the city would pick up the cost of a luncheon or the cost of transportation around the city.
“A lot of delegations cost us truly nothing because the costs were covered by the delegation. Sometimes costs are incurred by us. It’s a marketing cost. It’s the cost of doing international business.”
He said the effort at economic development partnerships is paying off.
Rennie said the city can track over the long term how specific deals and developments have been made between Sudbury suppliers and international companies, based on the trade delegations.
“In the broader front we see the increase in international business. Not only coming to the private sector but also coming to the universities, to the two colleges; they play a big role here,” he said, adding that the large mining companies such as Vale and Glencore appreciate meeting the delegations.
“They always say to me how valuable they are because it is a great opportunity for them to share and learn with other mining jurisdictions. And miners love talking to miners. That exchange happens and they love that,” said Rennie.
Government of Canada trade commissioner Juan David Gómez said Sudbury is recognized in the international mining community for being able to provide significant expertise.
“So what we are doing right now when we bring delegations to Sudbury is that we are exposing them to all of these ecosystems that the city has developed and top technologies are being developed for industry,” said Gómez, who works out of the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá.
"Every country has very different experiences. The technical challenges are different in every mine. In the case of Colombia, there are a lot of challenges with surface mines as well. So we make people aware of the context their technologies can be applied and taken advantage of,” he added.
“We think it is important for companies and organizations here in Canada to understand those contexts better so they can better perform when they are doing business. It is very important to know your client.”
Len Gillis is the editor of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.