In Northern Ontario, historically, we have lived and died with big ideas. Who could dream bigger than our prospectors, who have discovered billions of dollars of gold and uranium and nickel and precious metals? What could be more dramatic than the fur trade, or hydropower, or making steel, or establishing huge international papermaking and lumber operations?
Northern Ontario has prospered on some big historical bets made by international capital that saw opportunity and money to be made with our resources. The gains in the last 30 years have been more incremental with big entrepreneurship, more defensive than offensive. Paper companies have closed or gone bankrupt and a few have been resuscitated. Algoma Steel has been saved more than once from financial ruin and the same can be said for the former Spruce Falls Power and Paper (now Rayonier) and others. Elliot Lake is a retirement community. It takes just as much creativity and energy to save a business or a town as to launch one.
With peak resource employment behind us, entrepreneurship has been focused on smaller resource-related products and services. The mining supply and services business in Northern Ontario is a case in point. We have hundreds of highly sophisticated innovative companies exporting intellectual capital around the world at considerable profit. Many of them have won Northern Ontario Business Awards. It is a transformation from mining ore to selling productivity. A very different vibe.
When we see a big idea these days, it takes a moment to find our muscle memory. My favourite big idea of late is Jason McLennan's plan to transform Vale's Superstack in Sudbury from one of the worst sulphur polluters in the world to the highest clean-energy solar panel array in the...