On the face of it, the Province of Ontario and the State of Nevada would seem to have little in common: Nevada with its arid desert valleys; Northern Ontario, in the Canadian Shield landform region, containing the majority of Ontario’s 250,000 freshwater lakes. Yet although roughly 3,000 km apart, Northern Ontario and Nevada are the closest of neighbours below the surface, united by mining and the efforts of MineConnect.
Originally known as the Sudbury Area Mining Supply & Service Association (SAMSSA), MineConnect Canada has expanded to become Northern Ontario’s Mining Supply and Services Association. Serving as the voice of the province’s growing mining sector, MineConnect actively works for its members. These include manufacturers and service providers in traditional industries such as fixed mining equipment, mine contractors, and blasting, along with emerging industries like automation, software, and battery electric vehicle companies and suppliers.
Helping to introduce Canadian companies to mine-rich Nevada, MineConnect USA was launched in Elko, the county seat of Elko County, Nevada, three years ago.
Recognizing the important contribution the mining sector makes to the ongoing economic success of Canada and the United States, the Province of Ontario announced a further strengthening of economic ties with its Nevada colleagues last fall.
A new Economic Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will see a deepening of the relationship between Ontario and Nevada, which will “support joint promotion of electric vehicles, advanced manufacturing, critical minerals, and other priority sectors,” according to a new release from the office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford (www.ontario.ca/page/economic-cooperation-memorandum-understanding-ontario-and-nevada).
Last September, Premier Ford and Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo signed the agreement during a ceremony at Queen’s Park, site of the Ontario Legislative Building. They were joined by Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli and a Nevada-led delegation including other government leaders.
“This new agreement will help Ontario and Nevada attract new investments and provide businesses and entrepreneurs opportunities for new markets for their products and services,” said Premier Ford. “Our government is hard at work, developing new economic partnerships with jurisdictions across North America and around the world to create new jobs and a stronger, more resilient economy.”
Added Governor Lombardo: “This agreement is based on our region’s strong mining sectors. It is in the mutual best interests of Nevada and Ontario to cooperate and work together to expand our economic partnership. Working together we can maximize emerging export opportunities.”
In 2022 alone, more than CAD 2 billion in trade moved between Ontario and Nevada. This new Ontario-Nevada MOU will continue to strengthen the relationship between the two jurisdictions as they work in tandem, identifying strategic partnerships and joint trade promotion and investment opportunities benefitting Canada and the United States.
Leading the 260-plus-member-strong MineConnect is Marla Tremblay, named Executive Director of the not-for-profit supply and service association in March 2021. “We’re taking the existing Nevada initiative we have in place and expanding it, changing up to formalize the partnership with them even further,” she says of the MOU.
MineConnect and the Nevada Governor’s Office are working in concert to ensure that the MOU results in tangible outcomes. An example of this is the recent launch of Master Links, a key component of the NNRDA Nevada Silver Links program. Developed based on the Nevada Water Smart Landscapes model, Master Links was created as a means of addressing supply chain gaps in Nevada by enabling participants to take advantage of various benefits including insider access to RFIs, prior to publishing.
“We are working with the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority (NNRDA) to help Nevada-based mining companies address their supply chain issues via direct assistance with RFI development and subsequent communication of said needs to MineConnect members in Northern Ontario,” says Tremblay. “Our suppliers can bid, and if they’re successful, we’ll help offset some of the costs, including legal fees, to get them set up in Nevada. The objective is the same, but the delivery is different.”
Best of all, participants will work with the shared facilities at the NNRDA in Elko, Nevada. “We’re going to use the dollars directly to help companies, versus providing more indirect support.”
Like many other industries, the mining sector continues to face challenges in recruiting new workers to replace older staff heading toward retirement. Tremblay has recently begun to make presentations to high schools and panels of postsecondary students. These include inviting young professionals to talk about their career paths and the benefits of mining and encouraging students to envisage themselves in the field.
“Our members are telling us their main challenge is finding trained, qualified people,” she says, “so we’re doing what we can to help that. It starts when they’re young, and with getting teachers and guidance counsellors to understand the breadth of career opportunities that exist within the industry.”
Through its partnership with the Sudbury-based Goodman School of Mines at Laurentian University, MineConnect is striving to encourage future leaders in the industry. About 20 years ago, a game to foster awareness of mining careers among high school students was created and is being expanded beyond Sudbury to other parts of Ontario’s North. Recently, the first non-Sudbury editions of the MineOpportunity Challenge game were held in North Bay, Timmins, and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Since MineConnect has ties throughout Northern Ontario, the pairing is a natural fit with Laurentian University’s Goodman School of Mines.
“There’s a major labour crunch, a need for engaging youth to consider mining as a career and teaching them it’s not about just being a miner,” says Tremblay. “All kinds of roles exist in the industry. A mining camp is like a little city, with everything from chefs to bus drivers. People can be nurses in mining. We need people to understand that there are so many opportunities, and it’s not what they might imagine.”
A cross between Monopoly and The Amazing Race, MineOpportunity Challenge features mining companies, suppliers, and others in mining operating booths. In this highly interactive game, participants are asked questions which require them to go to a website, ask companies for information, or check QR codes to find the answers.
“We use minerals as their pawns and core samples as the head frames, so it’s a whole integrated way for them to learn about the industry and learn about the companies in their area and all of the innovative things they do,” comments Tremblay.
If they get the answer right, contestants win “money” and the opportunity to buy a mine, conduct exploration, and more. Along with the game, students learn about diversity, women in the industry, drone technology, virtual reality, and more to foster awareness about modern mining.
Recently, MineConnect’s board and staff underwent an Indigenous relations training course to better understand Canada’s colonial history so that they can help foster understanding and learn wise practices in creating strong partnerships that will help to move the sector forward together—in a mutually beneficial way.
In terms of women and diversity/inclusion in the industry, the organization recently partnered with Women in Mining Sudbury for a Halloween-themed business networking event and is looking forward to developing partnerships with other branches of this national group in future.
At the upcoming Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention in Toronto this March, MineConnect will work in collaboration with Theresa Nyabeze, the Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Vale Base Metals to co-host a roundtable session with leaders—including female CEOs—from various mining operations and other large firms that influence the sector, to discuss what they’re doing from a diversity and inclusion perspective.
Tapping into her extensive background in tourism, Tremblay was inspired to create a familiarization tour, better known as a FAM Tour. Instead of focusing on travel, however, she has developed a novel version for the mining industry.
Set to take place at the end of May, the tour will see invited media attending to take part in mine suppliers/services site tours and other events. It will coincide with the back-to-back BEV In-Depth: Mines to Mobility conference (presented by Greater Sudbury Economic Development), which focuses on mineral extraction and its applications for electric vehicles, and NORCAT’s Mining Transformed exhibition—the world’s first mining technology expo held in an operating underground mine—in the City of Greater Sudbury.
“In between those two events, we will host a reverse expo,” says Tremblay, “which is essentially a trade show where the media and mines are at the table.” Almost like a type of pre-matched speed dating, suppliers, journalists, and specialists will sit together for 15 minutes, discuss relevant topics, and move on to the next group. She anticipates high demand for this members-only event, but there will be a limited number of participants.
And in September, MineConnect will be at MINExpo in Las Vegas at the Mining Suppliers Trade Association (MSTA) booth in the Canadian Pavilion. Others, including representatives from the City of Greater Sudbury and Ontario’s Ministries of Northern Development, Mines, and Natural Resources and Forestry, will also be in attendance.
In just a few years, MineConnect has grown and earned significant brand recognition. Through conversations and surveys with its members, the organization has gained valuable insights, enabling it to accurately base its decisions around member needs.
More staff, more capacity
With more staff than ever, MineConnect can provide myriad programs and advantages to members.
“A big piece of what I want to do is enhance and strengthen my relationship directly with the mines because that’s what our members want: an opportunity to get in front of them,” explains Tremblay. “And that’s one reason we want to do the reverse expo, so they have a chance to meet with representatives of mines,” she says.
“We are really building that piece and growing our domestic presence. We’ve done a lot of work from an export standpoint outside of Canada, and now we’re working on strengthening the relationship with the other provinces, looking at ways to work with them, and figuring out ways to get our suppliers to all work together to strengthen the overall capacity and supply chain throughout Canada,” she shares.
“We’re also looking at ways to reduce issues around the supply chain—to be less dependent on parts from elsewhere. That’s a big focus, and I’d like to get that solidified.”