The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce is teaming up with the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund for a late-spring gathering of the aboriginal and non-aboriginal business communities.
APEX - the Aboriginal Business Exchange will take place June 4 at the Victoria Inn and Conference Centre.
The event is spearheaded by the Chamber's first ever aboriginal chair of the board, Joe Moses.
Moses said the goal of APEX is to inform businesses and community partners about opportunities to grow the economy through partnerships with aboriginal communities.
In particular, he pointed to resource development as an area for possible partnership.
"The abundance of natural resources we have in northern Ontario – mining, forestry, energy-related – they're the backbone of our economy, and those projects simply won't happen without the proper engagement of all stakeholders," Moses said.
He added that the networking opportunities provided by APEX will help start the conversation.
"When the big opportunities come on-line, like a Ring of Fire, we need to begin the dialogue and begin building those relationships today," Moses said, "so that we have our needs and our wants laid out on the table, and we've worked with each other to create a framework and a road map for how we're going to capitalize on those opportunities."
Moses said business can also partner with aboriginal communities in addressing workforce needs.
'If we ever end up on Maclean's magazine, it's going to be for all the right reasons'
"There's going to be a challenge facing us ... as it pertains to getting skilled and educated labour and workforce out there," he said. "Aboriginal youth represent one of the fastest growing populations in the country. Therein lies an opportunity to provide those young minds with the tools and resources they need to fulfill those workforce needs when they come online."
Finally, Moses, who was born and raised in Marathon, said there are opportunities for local businesses to supply remote communities.
"I know all too well, as a regional community member, how important it is to have a community like Thunder Bay within close proximity in the region to go to for our essential supplies and services – health care, education, other social services, products," he said. "We rely on Thunder Bay as a hub, and likewise with the aboriginal communities. They rely on Thunder Bay to provide those essential products and services, and in turn that creates a great economic opportunity for Thunder Bay."
Brian Davey of the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund said he's happy to support any project that leads to prosperous partnerships.
"If we ever end up on Maclean's magazine it's going to be for all the right reasons," he said, referring to a recent Maclean's cover story calling out Winnipeg for racism. "And that reason being that we're going to be a shining example in bringing our businesses together and creating wealth."