Over the past three and a half years, MineConnect – Northern Ontario’s mining supply and services association – has grown and evolved into an organization that truly represents member companies throughout the expanse of Northern Ontario. With a fifty percent growth in membership since its rebranding in the spring of 2020, MineConnect membership is becoming a must-have tool for member companies due to the organization’s distinctive position within the mining sector.
Executive Director, Marla Tremblay, along with a dedicated and experienced Board of Directors is leading this evolution. With a background in economic development in northern Ontario, a broad knowledge of the industry, and boundless energy, Tremblay – a Sudbury native based in West Nipissing – continues to identify new ways in which this not-for-profit association can benefit its members. “MineConnect is unique in its ability to serve as a central point of contact for the regional mining supply and services sector."
Mining companies, all three levels of government, Indigenous communities, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, as well as community groups – which tie into the industry – such as regional CIM branches, groups that promote mining and trades, and organizations that promote other mining jurisdictions worldwide are all a part of this expanding community. There’s a lot happening, and MineConnect is realizing its potential to be a conduit for the industry.”
President of MineConnect’s volunteer Board of Directors, Todd Domney, is a transplanted New Zealander based in Thunder Bay, and his company, Sumac Geomatics, is a MineConnect member. Domney’s focus as MineConnect President remains firmly on how best to support northern Ontario’s MSS sector. As demand increases for critical minerals, and urgency to transition to clean-energy technologies ramps up, Domney sees tremendous business opportunities for the association’s members – even more so if the larger community works together to ensure that it has what it needs to meet these challenges.
“MineConnect represents one of the largest and most sophisticated mining supply and service clusters in the world. These new opportunities come with challenges, and the best approach is a united approach when you need to work quickly towards a common goal.”
There are a multitude of ways that MineConnect creates community and disseminates information: networking events, guest speakers, member communications, social media (LinkedIn), webinars, and business-development missions – both domestic and international, and presence at key industry tradeshows.
Industry tradeshows provide opportunities to expand MineConnect’s network and to promote its members. The City of Temiskaming Shores, with the financial support of FedNor, has presented the Northern Ontario Mining Showcase (NOMS) at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention in Toronto and at the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s (CIM) Expo in Vancouver or Montreal for the past nine years.
Tremblay has coordinated the NOMS each year under the banner of her company - Markey Consulting. NOMS provides unparalleled opportunities to put Northern Ontario innovation on display. In 2023, NOMS helped participating businesses increase sales and exports by more than $10 million while creating 75 high-quality jobs in Northern Ontario and maintaining 100 more.
“In 2024, NOMS will be coordinated by Markey Consulting in partnership with MineConnect. Involving MineConnect now is the next natural step,” Tremblay explained, adding that “Many NOMS participants are MineConnect members.”
In December of 2021, MineConnect entered into a three-year partnership with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority (NNRDA) to create MineConnect USA - a business incubator focused on service and support for the mining industry in Nevada. Sheldon Mudd, executive director of the NNRDA stated, “From an economic development perspective, this is absolutely phenomenal. MineConnect’s model allows businesses to gauge the market with very little risk. The overall end game is to provide the tools necessary to ensure success. We want these companies to set up their United States-based operations here in northern Nevada, to hire local employees, and to reduce the overall cost of our mine operations.”
In September of 2023, the Governments of Ontario and Nevada strengthened their economic relationship through a new partnership that will increase trade, attract investments and strengthen supply chains in both jurisdictions to help companies compete in international markets. The Economic Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will support the joint promotion of electric vehicles, advanced manufacturing, critical minerals, and other priority sectors. “This agreement is based on our regions’ strong mining sectors,” said Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo.
Over $2 billion (CAD) in trade moved between Ontario and Nevada last year. “People do business with people – not companies or governments. It’s important to be there in person to lay the groundwork – to meet and talk so that we can understand each other’s challenges and goals, and then determine how we can create mutually beneficial partnerships like this MOU,” Tremblay added.
MineConnect has recently been working to address the shortfall in skilled labour that the sector is experiencing in Northern Ontario. Tremblay explained, “We’ve been working with ACCES Employment – a not-for-profit organization in Toronto – to encourage pre-arrival immigrants to Canada to settle and work in Northern Ontario. The newcomers are already approved for immigration and are in the information-gathering stage. We’ll be participating in ACCES Employment’s virtual Canada-wide Community Expo on November 9th. We’ve actively promoted the federal government’s Rural and Northern Immigration Partnership (RNIP) program over the years, and this is another way to keep at it because the need for tradespeople is now an emergency for many companies.”
Encouraging women to enter the trades and the mining industry is one of the latest initiatives for MineConnect. The not-for-profit is partnering with Women in Mining Sudbury to hold a networking event at Dynamic Earth on October 18th to keep the conversation going. Tremblay is also in the process of making presentations at high schools throughout the Nipissing-Temiskaming district to encourage high-school students to explore careers in mining.
With a chuckle, she expounds that, “As the mother of two teenagers and a young adult, I’m very familiar with this age group. Right now, it’s so important to ensure that youth today understand that no matter what career goals they have, it’s highly likely that they can be met within the context of the mining industry: computer science, engineering, marketing, trades, environmental, HR – the mining industry utilizes all of these skills and provides fulfilling and lucrative career opportunities.” Northern Ontario’s mining supply and service sectors generate an estimated $5.6 billion annually and support an additional 23,000 high-quality jobs throughout the region. It’s a massive sector, and it continually requires human resources to maintain and grow.
MineConnect’s Board of Directors has recently taken steps to include First Nation representation and is energized by the addition of Randi Ray, PhD. Dr. Ray is a proud Anishinaabe Kwe from Flying Post First Nation, as well as an entrepreneur who has successfully founded four companies; Miikana Consulting, Noojimo Health, Indigenous Workplace Wellness and Miikogin Wealth. Dr. Ray explained that "it’s about us meaningfully designing and implementing sustainable, context-informed solutions to challenges faced by many Indigenous people that support safe, healthy, prosperous communities. MineConnect’s Board of Directors and staff will soon undertake an Indigenous Relations training course to better understand Canada's colonial history so that we can help foster understanding and learn wise practices in creating strong partnerships which will help to move the sector forward together - in a mutually beneficial way."
With such vision and ambition, one may imagine that Tremblay is leading a small army to help achieve these goals, however in reality, MineConnect is comprised of the Board of Directors who volunteer in an advisory capacity, and a staff of three, plus one in Nevada. It has recently added a Research Intern with support from FedNor, and is in the process of hiring an Events Coordinator with support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation. Membership fees are the main revenue source, but sponsorships and fee-for-service projects are also a part of the mix that enables MineConnect to keep on connecting.
When asked about what inspires her, Tremblay responds with an anecdote of John F. Kennedy’s from a visit to NASA headquarters where he met a man who was mopping the floor. “JFK asked him what his job was at NASA and the gentleman said, ‘I'm helping send a man to the moon.’ Teamwork and big-picture thinking motivate me, and I always look forward to seeing what the MineConnect community can accomplish next.”