Sioux Lookout is out to chart a new future.
The northwestern Ontario town of 5,000 is embarking on a community exercise to draft a new five-year economic development and strategy plan starting in 2015.
With new and ongoing activity in the resource sector, there’s some meat on the bone for economic development manager Vicki Blanchard to work with.
The potential for Rockex Mining, a prospective iron ore miner, to establish a hot briquetted iron processing plant near town has Blanchard excited about employment opportunities and new revenue for a community that’s largely a public sector service town.
Sioux Lookout serves as an administrative, medical and educational hub for many outlying First Nation communities. These institutions have a huge physical footprint in town, but don’t pay much in the way of taxes.
“It’s a world-class find,” said Blanchard about the company’s Lake St. Joseph deposit, “but we’re really in the early stages.”
The company is searching for a financing partner and has much First Nation consultation work to do.
But it presents enough of a business case that it bring a natural gas pipeline to town for the first time to support a processing plant.
While the company hasn’t officially announced a location, “I’m working with Rockex to ensure that they put their plant in Sioux Lookout,” said Blanchard.
The town completed a mining strategy earlier this year listing at least seven mining companies with projects in the area, the leading one being Rockex, followed by Tamaka Gold’s Goldlund property, just off Highway 72.
Blanchard said they’ve worked with the companies in hosting four foreign investment visits with more familiarization tours scheduled for this year.
Deriving more community benefits from mining activity in the region is high on Blanchard’s agenda since she arrived a year ago from a similar posting in the Municipality of Greenstone.
That rural municipality, northeast of Thunder Bay, was involved in the discussions around a north-south road and rail route into the Ring of Fire.
Greenstone was also chasing down Cliffs Natural Resources to convince them to build a chromite refinery near the community.
Blanchard’s still doing digging for new opportunities, only this time she’s attacking the Ring from another direction.
Sioux Lookout has signed on as a project partner with three First Nations on a study for an east-west transport corridor into the remote mineral belt. It would examine the impact of a permanent road by way of anticipated traffic volumes and infrastructure needs.
Blanchard said it’s apparent from her discussions with First Nation economic development leaders that Sioux Lookout has a role to play given its position along the Highway 72-599 corridor.
The town and other communities could serve as staging bases, provide mechanical support, and offer food and accommodations for personnel headed north into the camps. “Everybody can get a piece of this,” said Blanchard.
On the labour front, a working group is taking stock of available skilled trades and looming shortages in Sioux Lookout, Lac Seul, Hudson and other communities. Their survey will be rolled out into a training plan and marketing strategy to attract skilled workers to the area, be they recent graduates or newcomers to Canada.
To increase the town’s profile, the municipality received funding from the Invest Canada-Community Initiatives program is setting up a website for site selection companies. Blanchard said she set up something similar in Greenstone.
The website would provide site selectors with information on available real estate, skilled trade demographics, utility costs and availability, tax structures, key employers, and other relevant data.