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City marketing frigid temperatures, ice, snow.

Meteorlogical mix could prove beneficial for boosting economy

Timmins Economic Development Office (EDC) is marketing its most abundant natural resource - it's bone-chilling weather - to entice manufacturers to come north and climate test their products.

Ice, snow, slush, freezing rain and extreme wind chill can hardly be considered precious commodities to most northerners. But EDC manager Christy Marinig and economic development officer Kathy Keast believe the potential in further growing an already viable local industry is so promising it may put Timmins on the map as a leading centre for cold weather testing in the next two or three years.

"(Cold weather testing) is really branching out," says Manning, who had just returned from drumming up some interest in cold weather testing at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit. "And it's not just restricted to what you might think of. It's cosmetics, housing products, wood products, clothing, all-weather camping gear, even specialty items like rescue saws for firefighting.

"Any product that is used in the winter could have the potential for testing."

The idea was born out of the public input sessions in their ongoing community strategic plan exercise.

Automakers Jaguar and Toyota have made Timmins their winter home for years by establishing permanent North American testing facilities and MTD Products Ltd. have tested snowblowing equipment in the city for more than 20 years.

Keast found in her research that a number of area companies conduct a considerable amount of environmental testing of mining and forestry equipment and some consumer products either in-house or do so for other companies. A local cab company, for example, field-tests two all-terrain Land Rovers for the manufacturer.

"There's a number of partnerships (in Timmins) and that's what we've been working on to identify exactly how much testing is going on," says Keast. "There's a number of mining suppliers and companies that you don't hear a lot about that do testing in-house."

According to weather data of mean monthly temperatures accumulated over the last 20 years, the mercury begins to plunge below zero in November and stays there through March - January being the chilliest month with an average at -17.3 degrees C. There's also the wind chill factor which can have a serious effect on equipment and product durability during the winter months.

The city also receives its fair share of snow accumulating between 55 and 70 cm on average between November and March.

Aside from Timmins having the right meteorological mix, Keast and Marining are out to prove the city can deliver all the right infrastructure elements by marketing its rail, highway, air and telecommunications links as well as provide a few intangibles through some community support.

Since some Jaguar and Toyota employees are away from their families for three to four months, and a few speak little English, the community makes a concerted effort to bond with them by inviting them out to local events or by scheduling outings such as a day of curling to develop friendships, Marining explains.

There's also an extensive variety of different road conditions with highway, city and some rough road networks developed by the mining and forestry industries which can be accessed for testing purposes. And finding a suitable site or warehousing space is not a problem. The city has identified about 10 sites for such development, but Marining says locations are flexible depending upon a company's needs and secrecy required to test prototypes.

"We're not limited to a particular geographical area," Manning says. "It depends on where the company feels confident, since the City of Timmins is one of the largest geographic areas in North America, they usually don't have trouble finding a spot to accommodate their specific needs."

With Industry Canada willing to invest up to millions of dollars in new research and development in key areas, including the automotive industry, Keast suspects some federal tax credits and incentives may be available to incoming manufacturers engaged, in new research and development opportunities.

Another possibility, both Marining and Keast are further investigating, is year-round field testing on how vehicles and automotive paint performs under certain road and off-road conditions. They are also looking at whether or not Timmins can be developed as a research centre for car companies to experiment with alternative fuels before they are introduced into the market.

Their recent trip to Detroit enabled Marining and Keast to rub elbows with car designers, parts manufacturers, suppliers and technical staff from all over the world to study what products companies are testing how these components perform.

"We've met with a number of firms, but we still have to pull the pieces together and focus on the potential," says Marinig. "Ontario is such a strong force in the automotive industry and it's a natural fit that Northern Ontario and Timmins be considered a leader in research and development for cold climate testing."
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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