By Andrew Wareing
They call themselves Team Northern Ontario and their aim is to make Northern Ontario more than a name on a map.
“The time is ripe for exports from Canada,” says Jay Aspin, export development officer with the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce. “Exports have tripled in Canada over the last few years. Of course, we have always had a huge trading partner to the south. But with the lower Canadian dollar, exports have expanded in leaps and bounds.
“The economy in general has expanded. We should be no exception,” he says. “What we are talking about is the movement of goods and services out of the country to the United States and overseas. The types of goods we’re talking about is varied, but I have 90 clients I’m working with now. We export everything from mining equipment to lumber to recreational equipment such as canoes and kayaks. There are many other things from software for business systems to agricultural products to engineering services.”
One company already making a splash on the international scene is McIntosh Engineering, a mining engineering consulting company with offices in North Bay, Sudbury and Arizona. With more than 70 employees, the company’s talent pool represent a full range of engineering disciplines and associated project management. The company has major mining projects in Canada and abroad.
McIntosh Engineering recently received an Award of Merit in the Market Expansion - Service category at the 2001 Ontario Global Traders Northern Region Awards.
“Despite a period of depressed metal prices, McIntosh Engineering has maintained their employee levels and increased their customer base throughout the mining industry,” says Bob Rappolt, president, Canadian operations, McIntosh Engineering Ltd. “In recent years this has included efforts to develop strategic export relationships with an eye to achieving export sales that make up 50 per cent of our total revenue. Receiving the Award of Merit recognizes our efforts.”
Aspin started in March 2001 as the export development officer with the North Bay chamber through a three-year program with funding through FedNor. Since then he has gained other allies in a “Northern Ontario Trade Network,” including Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.
“We have four now and there are as many as two or three more to be added,” he says, adding that the aim is to develop a complete trading network throughout Northern Ontario. A model for they can be found in the bay area of San Francisco and Sacramento where large cities have combined their economic forces to become a large trading network.
“The world is a big place,” says Aspin. “On the other side of the world, they may not know North Bay, but they do know Ontario. We can get their attention by working together in a trade network.”
There are many advantages to this kind of network, he says.
“There are synergies that can be tapped into. Whatever North Bay doesn’t have, can perhaps be found in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury or Thunder Bay.
“This is going to take a tremendous change in attitude,” he says. “Heretofore, everyone has been highly competitive and that’s okay. Competition is good. It helps to keep the pencil sharp and people aiming to do better. But this network introduces an element of co-operation. When you get competition and partnership working together, it is a powerful force. By increasing the size of the pie, we all get a larger slice.”
In April, Team Northern Ontario travelled to Atlanta for a trade fair and brought with it 18 companies from across the region. Those 18 companies had no less than 120 meetings with a number of Atlanta firms with a view to increasing their business. The group is planning to hold a similar fair in North Bay and bring in representatives from Atlanta. There is also a teaming initiative underway between chambers of commerce in North Bay and Georgia, says Aspin.
Aspin says it is “difficult to quantify” the likely economic impact of the pilot project, but says the hope is for it to continue past its three-year mandate.
“It’s our hope to build success into the program so that it will continue for a long time.”