June 2023

Earlier this year the Conference Board of Canada updated it’s economic outlook for Thunder Bay, predicting that the $1.2 billion dollar jail project off Highway 61 “will electrify” the local economy, with the Board predicting real GDP growth of 3.6 per cent in 2023 and 4.1 per cent in 2024.

Those figures are well up from the Board’s previous forecast of real GDP growth of only 1.8 per cent this year and 0.9 per cent next year.

According to the Board, this wave of economic development dollars will push Thunder Bay’s economic growth rate to the highest among all cities in the country for the next few years.
It’s been a long time since we saw so much development activity all at once.

But as the enormous jail project sends a tidal wave of government infrastructure cheques throughout the city, other projects are also poised to energize the construction industry, it’s many workers and all of the feeder industries that work in unison. The entire local economy should feel the impact, from the local car dealer to the neighbourhood Tim Hortons.

Here is a quick snapshot of the number of projects on the go.

  • Art Gallery for Marina Park (20+Million)
  • Magnus Theatre (8.4 Million)
  • The Superior EMS base building on Lakeshore Drive in Shuniah
  • TBRHSC Hospital expansion including cardiovascular surgery ward and a renovation of the ER dept.
  • Streetscape redevelopment in the Downtown Waterfront District (13 Million)
  • Matawa Dawson Court training and wellness facility (30 Million)
  • Wataynikaneyap (Watay) Transmission Project and Waasigan transmission line between Mackenzie and Dryden (1+ Billion)

Plus, numerous small business projects including some new and renovated car dealerships, a new Carstar Collision facility off Memorial and a new hotel next to the Hampton Inn off Arthur Street.

Parker Jones, of Tom Jones Corporation agrees the city and region are experiencing a boom.

“There are years of solid work ahead for us, and it’s great news for Thunder Bay and the Northwestern Ontario. We are currently involved in numerous large-scale projects across the region and continue to see significant demand across all sectors”, says Jones.

But despite all this activity, Jones says finding workers for their current workload has been manageable. However, he foresees labour being a significant issue in the future as more workers exit the industry. “We’ll need to be creative going forward to ensure we have the tradespeople to capitalize on the construction opportunities in the coming years. Although there have been increases in the cost of labour, the surge in building materials and supplies has been a more significant issue. With pricing starting to stabilize, we’re confident that projects will continue to come online. We’re grateful for the work we have, and we look forward to the future”, said Jones.

Louis Nadin of Nadin Contracting agrees that the next few years should look very bright for the city. Nadin recently began the first phase of the Downtown Streetscape Project.

“Initial phases of the work began a few weeks ago with utility replacements and road reconstruction along Court Street. Further streetscape upgrades will continue into 2023 with the reconstruction of Red River Road from Cumberland to Court Street and Court Street from Lincoln Street to Cook Street”, says Nadin.

New curbless streets and patio spaces will include cobblestone roadways, wider sidewalks, and granite benches. Nadin believes the strong local ecomony has resulted in renewed interest in building lots in the Gemstone, Maplewood and Magnolia subdivisions.

Brian Newman, Head of Engineering at the City of Thunder Bay is enthusiastic about all the activity, especially being able to revitalize key streetscapes in the Downtown North Core.

“This opportunity exists because the water mains and sewers below the street are at the end of their useful life and need to be replaced. Utility replacement will necessitate the reconstruction of major streets in the coming years and provides the opportunity to upgrade the streets into a high quality and flexible public space that supports and stimulates year-round public activities, local businesses, and regional tourism.

In order to create wider sidewalks as well as space for tree planting, landscaping, outdoor seating and event areas, Red River Road is proposed to be two lanes. Depending on the event and season, the use of the street is flexible and can be configured as a two-way street or a one-way street with curbside parking. This creates very wide boulevards that people and businesses can use and unlocks ample room for street trees, greenery, patios, public seating and wide plaza-like areas for outdoor programming and pop-up events,” said Newman.

Lyle Knudsen of Equipment World says his business has been positively impacted by the wave of projects.

“Coming out of a record-growth year, we are expecting continued momentum in Thunder Bay and most of Northern Ontario. We’ve benefited from the many construction projects in the North in most sectors including commercial, industrial, infrastructure and institutional spending. Each of these projects has created great spin-off in terms of business and job opportunities and has really served to fuel the economy of Northern Ontario.

We are projecting a strong run over the next 3-5 years based on the projects we see that are either being planned, or are already underway”, says Knudsen.

Despite widespread predictions of a Canada wide recession within the next two years, this multitude of local construction projects seem to have Thunder Bay well positioned to avoid any such a downturn.

Bill Wrightsell is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to Bayview Magazine. Email him at

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