Michael Denham, the new CEO of the Business Development Bank of Canada, recently acknowledged the fact that small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 99.8% of all Canadian companies, produce 66% of jobs in the country and represent more than 50% of Canada’s GDP. Denham noted that, in an era of globalization and increasing numbers of “free trade agreements,” we need more SMEs generating more growth to sustain our economy.
While this applies across multiple sectors, it is especially valid in the most sophisticated underground technology centres in Canada. In northern Ontario, the 500-plus mining supply and service companies based there employ 23,000 people – double the number of direct mining occupations in northern Ontario – and are an important component of wealth creation and innovation.
Free trade agreements, which are proliferating in the global market, will be advantageous to SMEs offering sophisticated technologies that will enhance productivity and efficiencies.
These companies are very visible in our mining cluster in northern Ontario.
The Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) has seen a membership shift over the years from companies offering traditional services to much more emphasis on innovative products and services with exciting additions to their existing software and hardware. This speaks well for the future. The fact that companies have a long history of mining expertise and the capabilities to develop customized products based on customer needs is one of the unique features of the SAMSSA cluster. As an example, RDH Mining Equipment is leading the way in developing lithium batteries-based underground mining equipment, which reduces ventilation costs and reduced dependency on diesel fuel emissions. Six units were recently delivered to a Russian mine. RDH’s successes resulted in an $8-million takeover by SMT Scharf AG in February.
Another example in North Bay is WipWare with its highly sophisticated Fragmentation process. There are multiple examples of innovation continually emerging from small start-ups in North Bay and Timmins.
One of the biggest keys to maintaining a market share in the future is the commitment of governments at all levels to support regional initiatives and provide financial packages and incentives that enhance investments and expanding operations.
Agencies that support innovation and programs that add value to exporting companies is critical for success.
Research mining centres that focus on new ideas are also essential.
Northern Ontario is blessed with a number of highly sophisticated agencies and educational institutions that are available to assist in the development of new products and ideas. In fact, both agencies and institutions focused on mining innovations are quite prevalent in SAMSSA’s membership and have been very forthright in providing funds, faculty and students to move ideas into first stages of commercialization.
The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) in Sudbury was instrumental in developing a proposal for a pan-Canadian body of partners to expand and improve the mining industry that made it through the first round of the federal government’s new $950-million Super Cluster initiative.
(Winners from the short list will be announced early this year.)
Banking and financial centres have also developed a significant understanding of the needs and funding requirements required by mining supply and service companies and have added designated personnel to assist in accessing suitable programs.
This development has grown significantly in northern Ontario with major banks leading the way.
Sudbury, which has the largest number of mining supply and service companies in northern Ontario with 320 companies, recently received endorsements as a key sector from the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation 2015 study entitled “From the Ground Up.” The study emphasized the significant wealth and employment this sector plays and will continue to play in the region.
“In many ways the success in mining and related supply services has shaped the way institutional and industry support structures that have developed in the city, which have in turn shaped other sectors of the economy. The mining supply and service sector will continue to be the primary driver of economic activity. In short, the community should continue to support the growth and development of an innovative mining supply and service sector,” reads the report.
DICK DESTEFANO is the executive director of SAMSSA (www.samssa.ca).