Could good news come in threes for the City of Timmins?
On the heels of a pair of announcements of new industrial development in Timmins — Calabrian’s liquid sulphur dioxide plant and General Magnesium’s magnesium and talc mine — the city has announced a potential third development from an investor in China.
On Nov. 13, the city announced Mayor Steve Black had signed a letter of intent with China’s Jiangsu Tianlong Continuous Basalt Fiber Co., Ltd. to work together in bringing a rock wool insulation facility to the city.
The Jiangsu Tianlong Continuous Basalt Fiber Co. specializes in the research and development, manufacture, and sale of continuous basalt fibres and related products. Rock wool insulation is used to insulate homes and other structures from the elements.
Black said the relationship began during the 2015 Prospectors and Developers of Canada conference in Toronto when the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines facilitated a conversation with company representatives.
“Our EDC staff had some conversations with them, looking at the rock sample that they had for the type of material that they use to make their product, and they asked if we could analyze it and see if we had the suitable rock type in the Timmins area to do business with them,” Black said. “And it happened that we do.”
As the discussion continued, Black made his first trip to China through the Canadian-Chinese Investment Agency, during which he met with the investor to discuss the project. He returned during Premier Kathleen Wynne’s delegation a short time later to sign the letter of intent.
Though the project discussions are still preliminary, Black said the company will need a source of raw material for its production facility, but it’s not clear whether the company would operate a quarry on its own, or contract that work out.
But it’s the proposed manufacturing facility that has the City of Timmins most excited.
“The initial estimate is likely around 60 jobs and, depending on the size of the plant, once they finish their market feasibility study, we could see upwards toward 100 (jobs) if the market feasibility warrants a little bigger plant,” Black said.
Discussions were to continue in December during a planned visit by company representatives. At that time, the Chinese delegates were expected to consult with the city’s economic development staff to start learning about the steps involved in getting approval to operate in Canada, in addition to looking at grant applications to local funding agencies for some startup money.
If the discussions continue beyond that, Black said the company would follow up with a market feasibility study. The company, he said, was eager to get started, and had initially pegged spring or summer of 2016 for the facility’s construction date.
But Black cautioned against setting unrealistic expectations.
“I don’t know that we’ll be able to hit that target with all the steps they need to do to get into Canada and Ontario, and follow the proper planning process,” he said. “But we’ll try our best, if they’re still intent after December to go ahead as quickly as possible and see construction start over the next year or so.”
Still, should the project go forward, Black said there could be opportunities for additional investment. Often once a company establishes itself in an area, spinoff companies are eager to follow, he noted, and so there could be some follow-up investment from other Chinese companies.
“Hopefully it comes to fruition, and we get the first one off the ground, and then we can see what else we can work on with other partners going forward,” he said.
The mayor commended the work of the Timmins EDC and city staff, along with their provincial counterparts for the work they’ve done to put the Chinese project on Timmins’ radar.
With mining in a downturn, and an expectation it will fall more by 2021 when Glencore’s Kidd Creek project winds up, diversification is exactly what the city needs right now. These three projects are “good news stories” for the community, Black said, and was optimistic there could be more, similar investment in the future.
“When you look at the potential job additions to the community, and just a little diversification of the economy, it’s great news all around, and we’ll continue to look for that foreign-type of investment to the area,” Black said.
“I know it’s a strategy our economic development group continues to work on.”