By Ian Ross
A flat mining and forestry sector in the Timmins area has resulted in companies and residents alike watching their fiscal bottom lines, which has not helped contractors and the business community.
Andy Rochon, president of the Timmins Construction Association, says with the city's economy tied to the natural resource industry sector, sinking mineral prices in recent years and the Canada-U.S. trade dispute over softwood lumber have put many expansion projects and industry upgrades on hold.
"We're not anywhere as busy as we were three or five years ago," Rochon says.
And because of rumours of impending layoffs in the forestry sector, few people are buying new or second homes, choosing instead to make renovations.
Overall, 70 more building permits were issued by the City of Timmins through the first 11 months of 2001 than in the previous year, but the accumulated building permit values plunged from $26,039,990 in 2000 to $17,799,928.
Despite mortgage rates near historic lows, by November, only 22 units were started by builders of homes, townhouses and apartments, one more than in 2000.
Residential permits issued for additions and alterations were up to 728, with a value of close to $4.4 million compared to 655 permits in 2000, valued at $7.2 million. Seven new mobile-home units were built in 2001 and permits for additions increased by 12, worth almost $200,000.
"A great many businesses in town are in survival mode," says Rochon. "You cut back on your expenses, and you wait it out until things get better."
In the institutional sector the value of building permits for construction issued up to November plummeted from $9.7 million in 2000 to only $3.1 million. Much of that went into additions at Earle Miller ($1 million) and Pinecrest ($1.69 million) public schools.
Commercial permits also fell off from $6.4 million to $3.9 million, much of that going into the city's construction of the $3.2-million TeleTech call centre facility. Road contractor Interpaving Ltd. added a $240,000- office space, repair and storage warehouse, Tim Hortons built a $350,000-outlet on Park Road and Algonquin, and the Bank of Nova Scotia made $472,000 worth of renovations.
"There's always hope that big things are going to happen," says Mark Jensen, the city's director of planning, building and economic development. "If we can get base-metal prices increased and gold reaches the $300 limit, I think things will start happening."
Though there is lots of talk of commercial and retail development happening around town, Jensen says, they have yet to receive any formal proposals.
One project on the horizon is the city's pledge to build a new downtown library through a coalition project of such institutions as Victorian Order of Nurses, Red Cross and Northern College. Requests for proposals have gone out on the $8-million facility, which would be located next to the TeleTech facility off Spruce Street.
Jensen says the city is committed to funding as much as 50 per cent of the project and has applied for SuperBuild money through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund for matching dollars. The city anticipates beginning construction sometime in 2002.
On the flip side, for major northern architectural and engineering firms like B. H. Martin Consultants, partner Aime Rivard says the 26-employee outfit is "busier than ever" with a strong client base that stretches up to the Hudson and James Bay coast.
Locally, the company is acting as project manager overseeing the massive cleanup effort of Kam Kotia mine tailings and is involved in capping tunnels and shafts of old mines that caused sinkhole problems in the city.
Despite a flat construction market locally, Rivard says they maintain a "mixed bag" of small commercial and industrial projects in the mining and forestry field.