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Farewell to Greater Sudbury's camera-shy economic development wizard

Veteran Sudbury EDO Paul Reid retires after two decades with municipality

Far from the headlines – and well behind the scenes (or the curtain, if you will) — Paul Reid has spent the last two decades working to grow Greater Sudbury.

The economic development officer did make headlines briefly in 2012, when he was able to salvage a plan to build a chromite smelter in Greater Sudbury, way back in the days when Cliffs Resources still owned the major Ring of Fire deposits.

The company had come here to scout a location, which proved unsuitable.

They turned to Reid, a veteran in the department who knew the area as well as anyone, who found an alternative within minutes.

“(Cliffs) wanted a brownfield, they wanted it near rail, they needed hydro and they needed it to be away from built-up areas,” former Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour said at the time. “Reid suggested an old mine site north of Capreol.”

Within a few hours, they had booked a helicopter and were on their way to take a look at the former Moose Mountain Mine site, located 21 kilometres north of Capreol. “Cliffs saw the site and were pleased with what they saw. It really fit their needs,” Kilgour said.

Kilgour, who passed away in July 2017, made a point to go to the media to let them know it was the publicity-adverse Reid who had, at least temporarily, saved the day.

It's that kind of economic wizardry that Reid, and the other economic development staff Greater Sudbury employs, are tasked with doing.

They not only have to know the city like few others, they have to understand the local economy, the market forces that drive that economy, and the needs of companies looking to invest in the Nickel City. Cliffs later sold their stake in the Ring of Fire, the chromite deposit is still undeveloped, and the new owner picked another city for the still unbuilt smelter.

Still, it gave insight into what people like Reid do every day: if things had turned out differently, it would have been a $1-billion investment in the city and hundreds of jobs.

Reid, who is retiring this month, is still adverse to publicity. He agreed to an interview on the condition the story would make it clear that he's part of a team, not someone who claims he did everything by himself, and he's loathe to take credit for any specific successes.

After a career in sales, he came to Greater Sudbury in 1999 on a contract with the former Region of Sudbury, and was later hired full-time at what became the Greater Sudbury Development Corp.

From the start, he focused on the city's mining supply and services sector, an area Reid said had the most potential in an era when mining companies were shrinking the size of their workforces.

“I believed it was under-represented in the economic strategy of the old Region and in the new city,” Reid said in mid-December at a downtown coffee shop.

“It's now recognized as being the biggest employer in the biggest economic sector in the City of Greater Sudbury. “It creates jobs and it's very diversified. We got a 300-plus companies. I'm very proud to have been associated with that sector and watch their successes develop over the last 20 years.”

At the time, the push in Sudbury was to move away from mining to transform the city into a medical and education hub for the North.

That's happened, Reid said, but he was intent on helping the supply and services sector market the considerable mining expertise the city had developed in the last 100 years.

“And now, this city is a global centre for hard rock underground mining that's recognized everywhere,” he said. “The name Sudbury wherever you go is recognized in the mining world.”

Reid was a liaison between the private sector and government, working on both ends to help new business get started, and existing ones expand – particularly to gain international clients.

“That part was pretty fun,” he said, of helping companies develop export markets. “That's helped to grow the base of exporting companies in Sudbury – and, indeed, across Northern Ontario.

These companies are now doing business all over the Americas, some are doing business in South East Asia, Africa. So it's become a very diversified market.

“We've had number of wins, but I think the biggest thing I take away is the growth of the individual companies. It's how they developed and diversified their markets, added new technology, new products and expanded and invested to make themselves more competitive, globally competitive.”

It's that diversification – not just for mining, but the medical school, the cancer centre, medical and mining research – that has allowed Greater Sudbury to emerge from chronic high unemployment from the 1980s through the 1990s.

The jobless rate was 10.1 per cent in 1999; last month it was just more than six per cent.

“We seem to have made significant progress,” Reid said. “If you have this one sector that creates a lot of jobs, a lot of wealth, it spills over to the other sectors.

“We've really become the capital for northeastern Ontario in all but name, because it is the medical centre, it is the educational centre – and it's the certainly the shopping centre, because we have the only Costco in the North, right? People come from all over here to shop.”

And, unlike other Northern cities, Greater Sudbury has maintained its population — and we're even expected to grow a bit in the coming decades.

“Growth is always the challenge,” Reid said. “But I can tell you, from my dealings with the entrepreneurs here in this community, I have a lot of faith in the future because of what they've done.

“So I'm more optimistic (than I was in 1999). I've seen the results. To really to create a city, you got to create jobs and you've got to create wealth. I think over the years, the people that own these businesses have done that and they've been expanding. I'm very proud of been part of it.”

Reid's last official day at work is Dec. 31, the last time he'll hop on a transit bus and make his way into Tom Davies Square as a city employee.

Looking back, he said he “had the best job” in Greater Sudbury, not just because of the “wins,” as he puts it, but because of the people he worked with.

“It's been a great ride,” he said. “I've always thought I had the best job. I've enjoyed every day of my career going to work at the City of Greater Sudbury – even when I'm getting shit from someone.”