March/April 2008

New beginnings

Sudbury enjoys a new lease on life

By C. Hersey

Ore loading | Courtesy of First Nickel

Like the first glimpse of green grass after what seems like an endless winter, new beginnings are always welcomed with a smile, and a touch of hope and anticipation for what the future might hold. The same applies to the renowned mining community of Sudbury. It seems as though a breath of fresh air has been pumped deep down into its core and their new beginning has only just begun.

You’d be hard pressed to tell it now – given that Sudbury boasts one of the hottest real estate markets in the country – but there was a time, not so long ago, when the town wasn’t doing so well.When the price of nickel hit an all time low of $2.25 a pound in the late 1990s, many companies and people in the community thought the mining industry would eventually die out. Mines kept getting deeper and more expensive to operate, and there was a major lack of funding; the last substantial investments having taken place in the early 1970s.

Jim Gallagher, director of mining and mineral processing with Hatch, a global engineering and construction management company with an office in downtown Sudbury, was among the many concerned. Just a few years ago the company had 45 employees in Sudbury working on small operational support projects. Now, Hatch boasts a Sudbury staff of over 140 and is drawing upon its resource base of another 8,000 employees in offices around the globe to help support several major capital projects for its Sudbury-based clients.

Gallagher acknowledges that much of their current success – like that of Sudbury itself – is due to the current high price of nickel and the unprecedented demand for the metal, primarily driven by the Chinese and Indian markets. Despite a worldwide competition for resources, Hatch has been able to respond to the current market demand by attracting labour from around the globe, bringing international resources into Sudbury.

Paul Davis, vice president of exploration at First Nickel, is certainly enjoying the current good times as well. The nickel mining and exploration company located in the southwest part of the Sudbury Basin is just four years old, so they didn’t live through the area’s less-optimistic past. However, they definitely saw the advantages of starting up operations in Sudbury when they took over the Lockerby mine from Falconbridge in 2005. Like Gallagher, Davis also said there are great benefits to having access to Sudbury’s existing infrastructure and resources, making it a lot cheaper to dig a little deeper there than to start from scratch elsewhere. He said the company’s expectations of the Lockerby mine have already been exceeded and added that they are already exploring several other properties scattered throughout the Sudbury area and expect to continue to flourish there in the mining community. “An emphasis on automation has also contributed to companies being able to stay in Sudbury,” claimed Davis. “Fewer people can do more work, meaning there is an increase in productivity with less man hours.”

The optimism for Sudbury’s future is also shared by the Ontario Mining Association. “At this time, the mining sector holds the most promise and the best opportunities for Northern Ontario’s future growth and development,” said OMA chairman Jeremy Wyeth, vice president for De Beers Canada Victor diamond project. The OMA acknowledges the positive contribution that mining makes to employment opportunities, entrepreneurial activity, investment, infrastructure, community development and increased taxation revenues. One report illustrates how 480 direct mining jobs can actually generate 2,280 additional positions. “The output of a single mine contributes $278 million to Ontario’s economy and $84 million to government revenues annually,” the report stated.

If there is anything to be gleaned from Sudbury’s experience, perhaps it’s that when it feels like you’ve hit rock bottom, sometimes you just have to hang in there and dig deeper. Maybe you’ll be lucky and hit nickel!

Post a comment


PDF Version