Although its name is relatively new, MineConnect’s mission remains the same as ever: to serve as the voice of Ontario’s mining sector. Originally known as SAMSSA, the Sudbury Area Mining Supply & Service Association, the organization was rebranded a few years back as MineConnect.
Recognizing the strength of the province’s mining sector, not-for-profit MineConnect works on behalf of its many members, advocating for their innovative products and services to potential customers around the world, including the United States out of its new location in Elko, Nevada. Although the distance between Sudbury and Elko is more than 2,000 kilometers, the two locations have plenty in common. Both share the spirit of entrepreneurship and are incredibly rich mining areas, contributing billions of dollars to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of both areas—$5.5 billion annually in Ontario alone. Thousands of jobs are supported directly through mining and related activities.
Indeed, mining is a key driver of the economic engine fueling both Canada and the United States. Seeing a need to connect Canadian mining suppliers to U.S. mining companies, MineConnectUSA was launched in Elko in late 2021. And like its Canadian counterpart, it has become a tremendous success.
Promoting Northern Ontario
Mining is a sector founded on partnerships and requires complementary companies and technologies to be successful. To keep up with mineral demand, many mines are stepping up production. This requires key suppliers, which is where MineConnect comes in, putting mining businesses in touch with providers of everything from automation and software solutions to electric vehicles, health and safety specialists, environmental and consulting solutions, mine contractors, transportation and logistics, and more.
In Canada, MineConnect is based in Greater Sudbury’s state-of-the-art NORCAT Centre, at 1545 Maley Drive. Founded in 1995 by visionaries from business and academics at Sudbury’s Cambrian College, NORCAT was created to fill the need to educate, support, and promote skilled workers, innovators, and local entrepreneurs in Northern Ontario.
In the years since its creation, NORCAT has grown to become a multinational organization offering multiple services, programs, and resources, including skilled labour training and workforce development, innovation in mining, and mining technology, all within a collaborative environment focusing on making a positive impact in the lives of others, their future careers, and Canada’s economic prosperity.
NORCAT is proud of its long-standing membership with MineConnect, going back years to when it was SAMSSA. According to NORCAT’s Chief Operating Officer Jason Bubba, MineConnect’s valuable contributions to the mining sector cannot be overstated.
Initially, NORCAT’s mandate was focused on introducing innovative mining training and development solutions at a faster pace than academia. In the 1990s, the organization advanced even further with the acquisition of the NORCAT Underground Centre. An operating underground mine, it is a unique innovation and training centre.
Used for hands-on training and gaining experiential mine skills, the NORCAT Underground Centre also serves as a place for businesses—from startups to small and medium-sized and international companies—to “showcase innovative and emerging technologies in an operating mine environment,” according to NORCAT. Over the years, the Centre has become the destination for the future of the mining industry.
“MineConnect’s mandate in promoting Northern Ontario mining suppliers to the national and international markets really aligns with NORCAT’s regional innovation Centre mandate, whereby we also support Northern Ontario mining suppliers, help suppliers demonstrate technologies in our underground centre, and then promote those suppliers through exposure,” says Jason Bubba. “So both MineConnect and NORCAT definitely have some synergies in terms of our own mandates.”
Part of NORCAT’s mandate is to support and represent mining supply companies in Northern Ontario, home to a vibrant mining supply sector and lots of new, home-grown mining technology. For networking and other opportunities, MineConnect continues to advocate for these companies, says Bubba. “We have been a strong supporter of MineConnect since their establishment some years back,” he says. “And when they decided to branch out into the United States with MineConnectUSA in the Elko area, NORCAT was also investigating business in the region as well, starting to dip our toes in the water and build some relationships in the U.S. So partnering with MineConnect in their co-location down in Elko, Nevada was an attractive initiative for us.”
Some companies who are part of the MineConnectUSA initiative also use NORCAT’s services, particularly the NORCAT Underground Centre. One such business is Hard-Line. Established in 1996 in Sudbury, Hard-Line has grown to become a leading supplier of mining industry technologies, including teleoperation, automation, and remote control. For the past seven years, Hard-Line has used NORCAT’s Underground Centre to test its products in real-world situations. “Hard-Line is a good example of some of the synergies here, where they use NORCAT as their test bed for their underground autonomous vehicle technology,” states Bubba, adding, “and at the same time, we’re part of the MineConnectUSA co-location hub.”
The Nevada initiative
For MineConnect members, the location in Elko serves as a valuable base to do business, taking professionalism to a whole new level. Before MineConnectUSA was created, Canadian companies who wanted to showcase their products to an American market were limited; starting their own office in Elko required high costs of entry such as renting space, hiring staff, and overhead. Through MineConnect, these same businesses now have a physical and mailing address, signage, access to meeting space, and much more.
“It’s certainly easier when you have a location, and someone says, ‘Can we meet?’ and we meet at the MineConnectUSA office in Elko with shared boardrooms and various offices there,” states Bubba. “It’s a lot more convenient and a lot more professional as well.”
For MineConnect’s corporate and associate member companies (https://mineconnect.com/members/) who wish to do business in the U.S., being a part of the association also helps to take the risk out of expansion. Through MineConnect, members have the opportunity to generate leads and build relationships at a fraction of the cost, but with all the benefits of having their own office in Elko. Now that the worst of COVID is over, NORCAT and other Canadian mining supply and service companies are making more trips to Nevada, secure in the knowledge that they can work with business prospects from a real office, instead of a hotel lobby or a restaurant.
One reason for MineConnect’s success, says Bubba, is the people spearheading the association. In Elko, it is under the direction of Strategic Development Director Sheena Hansen, who works to identify objectives, needs, and direction for the U.S. market and connect Canadian companies to the needs of mining operations in America.
“Sheena has been amazing in terms of making those connections that you need,” says Bubba. “As a business that’s been in the mining industry for nearly 30 years now, we know the players in Canada and Ontario, but when you go into a new jurisdiction, you want to understand their culture in general and their culture in the mining industry as well. [It is important to] understand what works for the mining industry in Nevada and who those key players are, those key contacts.” If he says he will be in Nevada for a week and asks who he should meet, Hansen steps in to help, arranging connections with key stakeholders in the state’s mining sector. “Sheena has been great at fast-tracking that process for us and making those connections in the community.”
There are, says Bubba, similarities between Sudbury, Ontario, and Elko, Nevada. There are many mines within a few hundred kilometers both east and west, many of them remote, yet they all require various services, solutions, and technologies, the kind provided by MineConnect members. The organization’s robust networking and support systems help these companies gain a valuable foothold. And while NORCAT may not be in exactly the same business at MineConnect, it continues operating as a platform for mining supply sector companies to utilize its operating mine for testing new products.
“There are a lot of synergies between how the mining supply sector can access NORCAT to help them with their mining supply technologies and access industry introductions to international mining companies and how, in the same way, MineConnect can do that and more on the networking side,” says Bubba. “We look forward to 2023, leveraging MineConnectUSA’s office, and thank Sheena for her connections and knowledge in the mining industry. We are going to really leverage that so we see even more growth in our U.S. partnerships and relationships with mining companies in Nevada.”