Located along the TransCanada Highway and nestled amongst the Great Lakes, you will find Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. With a population of approximately 75 000, “The Soo” as it is commonly referred to, is a relatively small community with a great amount of potential.
Between the bustling activity of local industry, entrepreneurship and innovation, and the vibrant arts and cultural communities which have developed, The Soo boasts a balance of urban amenities and access to nature in its purest form.
A location that is rich in history and diverse in culture, the community has been enriched by the efforts of its active and committed community members and organizations, who strive to maintain and improve the quality of life that is enjoyed by residents of Sault Ste. Marie. With four seasons to enjoy each year, and a strong tourism base, there is always something new to be discovered in the Soo.
Visit a number of historical sites, take the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, relax and enjoy the region’s many beaches and provincial parks, explore the pictographs, take in one of the growing number of festivals or events being offered, or make the most of Sault Ste. Marie’s beautiful waterfront. The region offers a range of outdoor activities including skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, hiking, biking, boating, fishing and camping, to name a few.
Mill Market is a new addition to the community, showcasing the region’s craftsmanship, agriculture and entrepreneurship, while celebrating creative and performing arts in the repurposed St. Mary’s Paper facilities. Mill Square is home to the Algoma Conservatory, Algoma University’s Department of Fine Arts, a farmers’ market, diverse vendors, and so much more – and today, Mill Market and other waterfront developments are revitalizing the landscape of the city’s downtown core.
Indeed, the city’s motto is “Naturally Gifted” and there are a number of ways in which this holds true. Besides having the benefit of the Great Lakes and the most picturesque natural surroundings, Sault Ste. Marie is well positioned from a Human Resources expertise point of view; it is a prime logistical centre and has created a business friendly environment in support of economic diversity, growth and prosperity.
Sault Ste. Marie was traditionally a resource based economy with a focus on steel, manufacturing and forestry. A few years back, the over 100 year old facility once called Algoma Steel was purchased by Essar Steel and renamed Essar Steel Algoma Inc. and continues to prosper, being one of the major employers in the community, with a team of more than 3000 local workers.
Leadership in Sault Ste. Marie shifted significant attention to diversifying the local economy to ensure that the failure of one industry would not inherently cause the city’s economic ruin. By diversifying the economy and increasing the sectoral bases from which they draw, the city has developed a strategy to retain and expand local businesses while attracting new investment to the community.
Essar, for example, is not only an economic pillar, but has been supportive of community development. The company purchased the naming rights to what is now the Essar Centre, Sault Ste. Marie’s downtown entertainment facility and home to the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Similarly, the Bioscience and Technology Convergence Centre at Algoma University has been officially named the Essar Convergence Centre, in addition to Essar Hall, the new wing at Sault College.
Essar is also actively involved in the community through a commitment to and involvement in the development of a deep sea harbour. Spearheaded by Essar Ports Global Holdings Inc. of India, the proposed Port of Algoma project will inject millions of dollars worth of economic activity into local and regional economies while increasing access to and from the region for freight, manufactured products and raw materials, and increasing the region’s import and export capabilities.
Beyond its commitment to the Port of Algoma, Essar Steel also has plans to reline the No. 6 blast furnace with the goal of doubling production, an action that would further stimulate the local economy.
An Era of Innovation and Collaboration
The Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC) engages domestic and international markets, working with the public and private sectors to increase the viable economic activity occurring within the community and helping to attract investments to create and retain jobs, increase the municipal tax base, and sustain the quality of life enjoyed in Sault Ste. Marie. In the past five years, SSMEDC has enjoyed a strong level of success, having supported more than 165 local entrepreneurial efforts which resulted in the creation or retention of over 1600 direct jobs.
Through high level community collaboration, SSMEDC works with all levels of government and community partners to maximize the economic benefits for those who choose to invest, work, and live in the city of Sault Ste. Marie. Working closely with local agencies and organizations, the SSMEDC has streamlined support, offering a la carte access to, and information about, available funding mechanisms and other business related supports geared toward entrepreneurial success.
John Febbraro, Director of Business Development with SSMEDC, values the working relationships his organization has built with the private sector to build new business opportunities and work with senior levels of government to access information and financial assistance. In addition, he credits the dynamic city council and progressive city staff who have worked diligently to create a business friendly environment in Sault Ste. Marie. Last year for instance, over $20 million of government incentives were used to generate more than $60 million of economic activity in the community.
Educational institutions Algoma University and Sault College continue to grow, developing the next generation of educated and trained professionals and skilled workers and supporting the growth and labour market needs of the community. “Sault Ste. Marie is home to a great deal of talent, expertise and experience, many bright minds and hardworking individuals, from which a number of industries and market sectors can draw,” adds Febbraro.
Though the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has been present in the community for over 25 years, the supply chain that has grown around it and the expertise being employed both directly and indirectly by the lottery and gaming industry have been of significant value to the community. “We have the Human Resource expertise here. We have the fibre optics capabilities and the IT capabilities,” explains Tom Dodds, CEO with the SSMEDC.
As the OLG is in a period of modernization, Sault Ste. Marie is focused on creating new opportunities to build a cluster in Sault Ste. Marie. “We are striving to maintain current jobs, adding and building an infrastructure, a nucleus here, with whomever the new provider to OLG will be from the private sector,” stresses Dan Hollingsworth, Executive Director Business SSM with SSMEDC. A number of companies have expressed interest in Sault Ste. Marie, with plans to expand the supply chain aspect of the gaming sector and draw from the experienced and productive local expertise.
Sault Ste. Marie is also home to Flakeboard, now partnered with Brazil-based Arauco, which has established itself as one of the highest producing plants in North America. The forestry sector in the region is moving forward, with added focus being placed on the revival of the mining industry in Northern Ontario, not simply focused on the mines, but rather, building the capacities of the supply chains that cater to those industries.
Looking Toward the Future
Like any community, Sault Ste. Marie faces challenges, but the way in which these challenges are met show promise for the community and the broader Northern Ontario region. There is a significant amount of available land in Sault Ste. Marie, shovel-ready industrial land as well as fully equipped business parks, with the infrastructure capacities necessary to support future development and growth.
Drawing on a number of economic incentives available to the community, many local entrepreneurs are taking advantage of these opportunities, investing in growth projects in strategic parts of the city. Local companies in manufacturing, processing and innovation have expanded their respective footprint and in addition added new capital equipment in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Logistically, the efforts at the Port of Algoma and the over $55 million investment being made at the International Bridge Plaza will have significant positive impacts on the community. Additionally, the investments made by Jack Purvis to build the $3 million Sault Intermodal Inc., the city’s first terminal warehouse, provide a significant logistical capacity for a community with direct access to markets in the United States by bridge and by rail, access to Canada via the TransCanada Highway and rail, and the rest of the world via marine and air.
The Sault Ste. Marie Airport enables the movement of both people and freight, and its management team is always looking for new carriers and expansion opportunities. With JD Aero operating out of the airport, providing aircraft maintenance, repairs and overhaul service, the site is a fully supported node in Sault Ste. Marie’s logistical network. In Sault Ste. Marie, “You are only as isolated as you want to be,” shares Febbraro.
Moving forward, SSMEDC is putting forth effort to host the growing Canadian defence sector in Sault Ste. Marie, as well as the establishment of a data centre to support the OLG in the community. With the Canadian government handing out $30 billion in defence contracts over the next ten years, Febbraro is sure that “even if Northern Ontario gets a small portion of that funding, it’s a win-win situation.”
Steel, of course, remains important to the community, not only for the direct employment it provides, but also for the indirect jobs and supply chain activities it creates within the community. Community and business leaders alike are working to ensure that natural endowments are capitalized upon and that calculated risks are taken, taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves from an economic development standpoint, and building networks and relationships that are supported by integrity.
With low property taxes, no development charges, efficient zoning and related bylaws, GIS capabilities, a number of real estate options at great market value, a low cost of living, access to nature and recreation, as well as a growing retail base, Sault Ste. Marie has fostered a business friendly environment, establishing itself as a great place to live, work and invest. Boasting a significant infrastructure and a model for development, the city of Sault Ste. Marie is well poised for the future.