Ask how many years the Northern Ontario Mining Showcase has been setting up shop at the world’s largest mining show and it becomes a matter of internal debate within the organizer ranks.
Officially, on the website marquee, this March 3 to 6 will be the ninth year of the showcase at the PDAC (Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada) mining convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
But it depends on who you ask, chuckles James Franks, the City of Temiskaming Shores' economic development officer. He’s been involved in the event, in some form, in some fashion, for 12 years.
A Northern Ontario presence at the PDAC convention started out amid humble beginnings in 2010. Township representatives from James and Elk Lake displayed the area’s mining history at a small booth in the Ontario Pavilion.
When the second year rolled around, organizers brought along a handful of local companies for a hospitality meet-and-greet in a small hotel boardroom near the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Those shindigs went so well, it was upscaled to a one-day fling at Steam Whistle Brewing in 2014 — arguably the first showcase — which attracted more than 1,000 convention delegates from across the street from the convention centre to circulate among 47 exhibitors.
For some, the virtual — and somewhat forgettable — Showcase during the pandemic year of 2021 doesn’t really count. It’s boots on the ground in the convention hall that really matters.
Led by the City of Temiskaming Shores and backstopped by FedNor, the showcase is the largest regional pavilion at PDAC, “by far,” said Franks. The larger event, surrounding the Showcase, routinely attracts around 25,000 delegates from the global mining industry.
This year’s Northern Ontario pavilion will shoehorn in 112 exhibitors from across Northern Ontario’s mining supply and service sector and occupy more than 13,000 square feet of convention floor.
What can’t be argued with is the results.
Over its event history, the numbers estimate the showcase has assisted in the creation of more than 900 jobs across Northern Ontario and more than $100 million in increased sales since the program’s inception in 2015.
During its formative years, Franks said their focus was all about promoting mining manufacturers to display their wares and expertise to the world.
But the definition of what constitutes a mining service company broadened over time to include mining tech companies and the postsecondary trainers that cater to the industry. Today, suppliers include modular home builders, used for office and workforce accommodations, and even a Sudbury wildflower grower, applied in mine remediation practices, to demonstrate just how diverse and multi-faceted the mining industry has become.
The showcase is an evolving event.
There’s always some exhibitor turnover every year, which is what organizers want, Franks said. Some companies graduate out of the pavilion to lease larger space at PDAC or decide the event wasn’t the right fit for them.
“It’s good to see new faces come through the pavilion every year. That was by design but we also see the same folks come every year.”
In recent years, organizers are promoting the industry’s cool factor by setting aside space for hands-on, interactive displays — anything that’ll draw in convention delegates strolling by.
This year's speakers series features a full card of presenters in equipment finance, Indigenous business, drilling, health and safety, digital technology, and international market opportunities.
Booking and organizing the event is not cheap.
For this year’s event, FedNor is contributing $781,500 to stage the pavilion, with participating businesses, those registered for individual kiosk space, contributing $56,000.
About $400,000 of those funds goes toward booking the convention floor space, with $250,000 earmarked for actually assembling the pavilion.
The intent of the showcase has been to provide affordable display space and exposure for small-scale mining-related companies and organizations that otherwise would find it too expensive to display on their own.
Each individual kiosk is erected with a company’s signage and power and internet connections to where the delegate just shows up to plug in with a laptop, their business cards and brochures.
Regardless of a company’s size, all are on the same stage and on the same footing. Judging by the kiosk’s size, one can’t tell the difference between a multi-million-dollar company and a “mom and pop working off their kitchen table," said Franks.
While some things change, the ever-popular Northern Ontario Night still is on tap. Ticket-holders attending the Steam Whistle Brewing networking gala get a taste and drink of this region’s culinary delights.
If there’s one new wrinkle this year, MineConnect, the regional service and supply association, is running a PDAC bus to Toronto with the help of Tisdale Bus Lines. Originating in Sudbury on Saturday, March 2, it will head to North Bay to pick up delegates and turn down Highway 11 to Toronto, returning on Wednesday, March 6, enough time for participants to network during the trip.