In just a few short years, MineConnect has become a formidable force in the Canadian mining industry. Now, in a stunning move, it is bringing its expertise to the highly developed and professional mining economy of northern Nevada, a win-win for the USA and its northern neighbour.
Originally known as the Sudbury Area Mining Supply & Service Association (SAMSSA), the not-for-profit association underwent a rebranding in 2020, changing its name and logo to its new “MineConnect” identity. With a strong presence, it made sense for MineConnect, now the voice of Ontario’s mining sector, to look to its neighbours in the south for the benefit of both countries. Seeing similarities and growth opportunities between mining in Sudbury and Nevada – one of the world leaders in mining gold, silver, and lithium – MineConnect USA was launched in October 2021.
Contracted by the Northern Ontario Exports Program through Ontario’s North Economic Development Corporation (ONEDC, which comprises Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Timmins, North Bay, and Thunder Bay), MineConnect USA is managed on their behalf.
Working to promote economic development partnerships across Northern Ontario including mining supply and service, MineConnect established a legal body in the United States. Using the tagline “Ontario’s Mining Supply & Services Association. In Nevada,” an office was established in Elko. The main city of the Elko Micropolitan Statistical Area, its economy, spearheaded by gold mining, is legendary.
Led by Strategic Development Director Sheena Hansen, the Elko location of MineConnect serves as a legal presence for banking and other services. Hansen’s role is to help mining’s service-and-supply companies make inroads in the market and assist them with their presence at trade shows or B2B meetings.
“Sheena works with the companies to identify what their goals are for the Nevada market, and what their best bet is based on their products and services. This includes what’s lacking in the market, and the best approach for what they’re trying to achieve. She helps guide that process,” says MineConnect Executive Director Marla Tremblay.
Essentially, it’s about connecting to the right opportunities, opening doors, and making the process of Canadian companies doing business in Nevada much easier and more streamlined.
Instead of having to rent a location in Nevada, Canadian businesses have office space ready-leased at the Shared Business Center (SBC, formerly under Barrick Gold), with boardrooms and desks, providing a Nevada address so they can bid on projects and a suitable venue to meet with prospects.
“The purpose of the pilot project is to represent a cluster of northern Ontario mines and side companies,” says Trembley. Although the schedule was pushed back because of COVID, the goal is to have a minimum of 20 Northern Ontario companies in the program.
The first year saw a good number of mining supply and service companies apply. These businesses were evaluated, not only by Northern Ontario counterparts and stakeholders but also by representatives from Nevada, to ensure that selected companies would fill gaps rather than duplicate existing mining supply and services from local companies.
In MineConnect’s first year it has selected a cluster of 10 companies to make inroads into the Nevada market. The aim is to give these Northern Ontario businesses a soft landing and help them not only sell to the American market but find opportunities for expansion.
For some, this means finding a partner in the U.S. for their mutual benefit. Others may be looking for a local distributor and forming a relationship, which is much easier when a company has a base in Nevada. Some businesses are seeking to open a storefront in Elko, using the opportunity with MineConnect to test the market.
And if these mining-related companies determine over a year that there isn’t a market for them, the program will still be a success, since these companies weren’t required to invest huge amounts of money and energy.
“It mitigates the risk,” says Tremblay. “If it doesn’t make sense for them, this is an easy way to figure it out. And then they’re out, and we bring in a new company.”
Due soon to begin the second round of applications, MineConnect aims to have them completed in June for a start in fall, 2022.
When discussing MineConnect, Sheldon Mudd has high praise for Paul Bradette. A respected trade and investment specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, Bradette originally served as Executive Director. The concept for MineConnect came out of conversations between Nevada and Bradette in 2015, with the concept fully defined by 2017.
“Paul’s end was to expand Northern Ontario business into the Nevada market, to help with their export programs and so forth,” says Mudd, Executive Director of the decade-old Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority (NNRDA), which represents Lander County, Eureka County, Elko County, and White Pine County. “From my end, it was a matter of simply getting supply chain products and essentially offering them locally.”
Visiting the Sudbury mining district – known as the Ring of Fire – Mudd was taken by the number of manufacturers and service providers available in the area. “And I couldn’t believe that we, being one of the largest and most profitable mining districts in the world, did not have that level of support right here in Northeastern Nevada,” he says.
“We’ve got great manufacturers and great service providers, but it was not anywhere near the level I saw there. And so my primary goal was to essentially define what we were missing in the area, what the gaps were, and then try to recruit companies to fill the gaps because, quite frankly, we’re missing a lot and have to procure products from a long way away. Any time we do that, of course, the money leaves a state and we don’t get it back.”
Discussions between Mudd and Bradette made both men realize that MineConnect would be a win-win for both Northern Ontario and Nevada. To ensure that local businesses in Northeastern Nevada would not be negatively affected by potential competition, a policy was instituted within MineConnect to identify gaps, rather than duplicating existing supplies and services.
“So, by filling these gaps and getting these companies in here creating more jobs, that would actually support the local small businesses and local providers, because every person comes into Nevada places to eat, shop, get automotive care, and so forth,” says Mudd.
With the framework together and grant money allocated, the original goal was to launch MineConnect in the fall of 2020 at the MINExpo International in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, COVID hit, and everything was delayed until the spring of 2021 when the border slowly began re-opening.
To date, participation in the program has been overwhelming.
One reason, says Mudd, is increased efficiencies. If a Nevada mine operator can procure equipment in days from a Canadian instead of weeks or months, they have much less downtime and are more productive.
On the Canadian side, businesses benefit from having a local presence in Nevada’s vibrant mining community, and some of the money remains in Canada. Additionally, shipping costs and delays at customs are virtually eliminated.
As for the future of MineConnect, Mudd and Tremblay hope the business incubator will see at least 10 companies going through the process and setting up a presence in Nevada every year.
“Our goal is at least an 80 percent success rate, and I’m hoping the mining industry here in Nevada sees this as a beneficial tool for supply chain and service procurement,” says Mudd. “I hope the Canadian businesses who are participating see this as a useful option and opportunity to gauge and enter the Nevada market. And so I just hope this becomes a continual, steadily operating organization until we get to a point where we’ve essentially recruited all the people that we need to ensure our mining industry stays operational. And that, by then, every business in the Sudbury basin has looked at it, tried it, either been successful or determined Nevada is not a good market for them. And I hope it continues to operate steadily so that at some point it’s determined it’s not needed anymore.”