A networking series for Sudbury's mining industry is being revived, and the first meeting already brought forth many questions and concerns.
The Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) held the first Export Club meeting on May 17 at the Durham Club. It was the first one in over a year, according to Paul Bradette, the organization's new director of business development.
“We decided to try doing these meetings again to get a better sense of what issues people are tackling and how we can help each other, exchange ideas and give insight with experiences,” said Bradette. “We have a great president, Dick Destefano, and a wonderful board of directors.”
Because it was the first meeting in over a year, only about 25 people attended. Bradette said he expected the number to grow as word got out the meetings are back on.
The timing is critical as well, as the mining industry in Sudbury is experiencing an upswing and demand for services grows.
Some attendees were quick to point out two specific issues: problems in the export market and the shortage of skilled and manual labour in the region.
While the initial meeting was small, Bradette said the club is planning on bringing in guest speakers, including some from the major mining companies.
To get discussions started, some members stood up to introduce themselves. Among them was the newest director, Michael Gribbons, owner of Synergy and VP of sales and marketing at Maestro Digital Mine, who talked about why networking associations like SAMSSA worked for his companies.
In short, it helped launch them into the export market. He pointed out that mining companies no longer fund research, they are looking for solutions elsewhere, and often those solutions mean collaboration with multiple companies.
As well, Gribbons explained the top four per cent of Canadian companies export around 30 per cent of their product, meaning they will have to seriously consider looking at international markets if they want to flourish.
Associations like SAMSSA, he said, help bring companies together for those collaborations and export opportunities.
“I think, for the most part, the people sitting here are the ones we don't have to convince (we are shooting high enough),” Gribbons said. “It's the ones we have to convince that don't bother showing up; they don't understand.
“I want to see 100 per cent of Sudbury's mining companies exporting.”
To reach that goal, many pointed out there is a serious labour shortage in the city, both skilled and manual. Some suggested they hire outside help, even internationally if needed, for professional jobs like engineers. At the labour level, there were many that pointed out that was a problem rooted in the secondary school system cutting back on teaching trades like welding and carpentry.
The group used to hold meetings in conjunction with the Northern Export Program and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. After a year away, Bradette said they see the value of the meetings again after receiving feedback.
“At the end of the day, it needs to be driven by the suppliers,” he said. “We can start setting the table to have regular meetings again.”
One of the big takeaways was learning from other's mistakes in exporting to other countries. Companies would be short-sighted to not take advantage of that to improve their standings in the industry. Many of SAMSSA's member companies have long histories of exporting, and will be looking at sharing their experiences and advice to help newer companies set up and be successful.
“We have a lot of companies here that are willing to that kind of mentorship," Bradette said. "That will be key for us."
The plan is to meet quarterly. The next meeting is planned for September.