The latest round of City of Greater Sudbury construction statistics point to a municipality maintaining a relatively steady pace of growth throughout the pandemic.
Recently released building permit statistics reveal the city issued 1,839 building permits in 2021, which carried a total value of $290.2 million.
Although this lags behind the five-year averages of 1,952 permits and $314.2-million annual total, building services director and chief building official Guido Mazza said there’s always fluctuation in these statistics, with one major project enough to throw things off. In 2020, this included the 256-bed Extendicare facility in Sudbury’s south end, which has a construction value estimated at $54 million.
Further, a slew of HVAC-related permits that came as a result of COVID-related health measures also served to skew numbers.
“I think we’re on an upswing,” Mazza said after looking at the nuances behind the figures. “The numbers are in line with the trends that we’re seeing. Building permits continue to contribute to housing opportunities for our growing population.”
According to the latest Statistics Canada data released last week, Greater Sudbury’s population grew by 2.8 per cent between 2016 and 2021 to its current 166,004.
There are two areas within the year-end construction statistics released by the city of particular interest, Mazza said, pointing to new industrial gross floor area and new residential construction.
When it comes to new industrial gross floor area, 186,620 square feet was added to the municipality last year, which far exceeds the 100,266 square feet that were added in 2020 and the five-year average of 119,408 square feet.
This, he said, is a statistic of great interest, “because that’s the kind of industry that indicates that there’s a fair employment impact.”
He points to significant investments by major mining companies as helping fuel a good portion of this growth, including an almost $35-million investment by Vale and a Glencore investment of approximately $6 million.
On the horizon is FNX Mining Company’s Victoria Mine Project approximately 35 kilometres southwest of the city, which is projected to operate for 11 years and carry an ore production capacity of 3,500 tonnes per day.
“That mine is in full commitment right now, so those kinds of investments in the city are harbingers of times that show there’s continued investment in the city,” Mazza said.
As for residential development, last year’s new residential construction value of $84.4 million outweighs both the 2020 value of $66.7 million and the five-year average of $58.9 million.
This translated into the creation of 449 residential units created last year, which is close to the 443 units created in 2020 and exceeds the five-year average of 351.
This number would have been even higher if there were enough skilled tradespeople available for companies to work on as many new builds as they’d like to, Mazza said.
“We are in a bit of a silver tsunami,” he said, adding that there is a great number of people retiring and a limited amount of experienced people available to fill the void they leave behind.
Sudbury Construction Association executive director Brad Isaac said that he has heard a similar report from various members, and that everyone appears to be in the same boat in being unable to attract skilled labourers.
“It’s something that’s going to be an issue for at least a couple of years and it’s not going to be an overnight fix,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to get people trained properly, and it’s an ongoing issue and I think eventually we’re going to have the workforce we need, but we’re not going to see these issues resolved in the next couple of years.”
Youths of today are being funneled toward universities and away from the skilled trades, despite many trades carrying a wealth of well-paying job opportunities.
There is a lot of movement on the construction front in Greater Sudbury, Isaac said, and people are relocating to the Greater Sudbury area from far and wide to participate in it.
“There’s been a lot of movement of people from down south of people coming up to Sudbury,” he said. “If we had the workforce I believe there’d be more projects and essential builds.”
Though he can’t pre-announce private developments in Greater Sudbury, Mazza said the city is talking to various industry leaders and working toward building permits for some “fairly significant projects.”
Private industry aside, the City of Greater Sudbury is working to break ground on Kingsway Entertainment District later this year, a project the city has already budgeted $100 million toward and which will centre around a municipal arena on The Kingsway.
A transitional housing development on Lorraine Street is projected to break ground this year and cost between $10 and $12 million, and the construction of an affordable housing complex on Sparks Street is expected to begin at a cost of approximately $6.3 million.
The $63.9-million bed redevelopment of Pioneer Manor is also in the works, and although Junction East is a little bit further down the road, city council recently reaffirmed their support for the approximately $46.5-million project.
Meanwhile, Mazza said the city is progressing well on two efforts to help make the city’s building permit process run smoother. This includes an electronic permitting capability expected to begin launching in May and the grand opening of a one-stop-shop configuration at the main floor of Tom Davies Floor, which is expected to take place soon.
“Lots of positive stuff,” he said. “I really think there’s a positive vibe in the industry as a whole.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.