Health care, education jobs transforming Thunder Bay's economy: First Nation partnerships key to restoring city's tarnished image as regional hub.

AuthorRoss, Ian

In the early 2000s, much of Thunder Bay's economy leaned on the pillar of the forestry industry.

For Doug Murray, the former general manager of the Resolute Forest Products mill, he remembers 2003 as being the city's best employment years with two kraft mills humming, a stable of paper mills, and five sawmills operating.

The upheaval in the forestry sector that resulted in mill closures and layoffs has taken Thunder Bay more than a decade for the city's once-staggering economy to recover.

Murray, now the CEO of the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC), said the city is in a healthier place due largely to its position as a regional hub for medical services, education and aviation.

The CEDC's new three-year action plan puts forth ideas on First Nation partnerships, workforce attraction and retention, and marketing Thunder Bay's potential to the world.

The document is a compilation of months of interviews Murray and the CEDC's board directors conducted in asking various stakeholders what was important to them and what direction the city should be going.

As the largest city in northwestern Ontario, the action plan frequently referencing Thunder Bay's regional hub status and the reciprocal relationships to be had with outlying communities.

With one of the busiest airports in Ontario, Thunder Bay is a connecting hub for many First Nation communities as serves a regional healthcare and commercial-retail centre.

In reflecting on his six years with the CEDC, Murray was surprised at how much of an impact the health-care sector has plays in the city's economy.

The regional hospital and all the medical services provided, including small specialty practices, encompass approximately 18 per cent of the city's workforce, he said.

I didn't realize how big that sector has become and potentially how much more can be added in as we increase the hub size of this.

Playing into that equation is how to deliver health care to the remote communities and how to better interface with them.

"Can we develop things in northwestern Ontario that we can use as a model for the rest of the country?" he said.

Research grants into Lakehead University and Confederation College have creating more technical jobs and rail coach contracts with the Bombardier Transportation plant have expanded its workforce.

While forestry is less of a dominating presence, Murray said there exists valueadded opportunities.

A pilot plant at Resolute is developing the...

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