Fortems: Suppliers hidden for a highly visible industry

On Ajax

Cam Fortems / Kamloops Daily News
December 6, 2012 01:00 AM

The mining industry is all about numbers, quantified and readily available.

Workers at Highland Valley Copper? About 1,200. At New Afton? About 350.

But what about the workers here who aren't digging for copper, gold and molybdenum, above and below the ground but nonetheless work in the mining industry?

The Mining Suppliers Association doesn't know. Neither does Venture Kamloops. But the city's economic development arm knows it's substantial - and it wants more.

Beginning in late October, Venture Kamloops began conducting an online advertising campaign targeted at expanding the size of Kamloops' mining industry.

"It's letting people know Kamloops is becoming a centre or hub in B.C.," said Anita Grover, Venture Kamloops' acting director.

Venture Kamloops knows about Robertson Manufacturing, which makes core boxes for drilling. It also knows Kal-Tire operates a retread facility for mining tires and it can name two major assay labs here.

It cannot, however, put a number to the payroll the mining-supply industry produces in Kamloops.

"We've done surveys for business retention and we'll come across a company with 125 employees. Their contracts are strictly in the mining industry," said Grover.

Alec Morrison, the Mining Suppliers Association of B.C.'s director of relations, can number 210 members in this province. He noted a Global InfoMine study several years ago counted about 900 companies doing mining-related business in B.C.

That industry is headquartered in Vancouver, which is a global mining headquarters, but also has major representation in Surrey and to a lesser extent in Prince George and Kamloops.

There are six Mining Supplier Association member companies here (not counting branch suppliers, Finning, for example). But Grover can list off double that number without thinking much about it. It's a hidden industry -and many people here who oppose Ajax want to keep it out of sight and mind.

Two City councillors oppose Ajax outright, though council has never taken a vote. At the same KGMH-Ajax is splitting opinion in Kamloops -it's 50/50 for and against, according to a company poll done last year - Venture Kamloops is promoting the city as a hub for mining.

Grover said it is receiving interest from companies in the United States, including in Seattle, Houston and Denver. It believes the more it can cluster supplies and services here, the greater those companies develop interrelationships and prosper together, creating new opportunities.

Venture Kamloops has a complicated relationship with Ajax. Any economic development officer drools at the thought of 400 jobs coming her, but at the same time it can't alienate half the city's population by being seen as a booster.

Grover said it is looking at doing a study in 2013 on the size of Kamloops mining supplier industry and ways to grow it, with or without Ajax.

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