It's a question that is not often asked, but what makes Thunder Bay the most important city in Canada?

It's the focus of a series this week at CBC Thunder Bay, where we're asking what makes us such an important piece of the national pie.

Economically, Thunder Bay was traditionally viewed as a place full of pulp and paper mills, sawmills and grain elevators.

Although those industries may not be as strong as they were a decade or two ago, they are still a major part of the city's economy, said Doug Murray, the CEO of the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC).

"We have the largest grain storage facilities in Canada. You look at the forest industry, if you look at our sawmill in Thunder Bay, it's the largest sawmill east of the rocky Mountains. You look at that and say, 'OK, well, is it number one in Canada? No, but it's pretty close.'"

Murray said the city's economy is much more diversified than in years before, according to a Conference Board of Canada ranking.

He said on a scale of 0 to 1, where 0 is the least diversified, Thunder Bay scores a 0.84.

Murray said the knowledge economy, IT sector and healthcare are also major contributors, and will continue to grow.

He pointed out that Thunder Bay's health sector services an area larger than many countries. That leads to opportunities in accessing health care remotely, and will allow the city to develop and pioneer new technology.

Doug Murray

Doug Murray is the CEO of the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission. (Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission)

However, Murray said, the city should not lose sight of its older industries, such as shipping.

"Today we [are] the furthest west on the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Seaway system. We're the largest outbound port on the Canadian side for exports."

"If you look at Thunder Bay, it's an important transportation hub for the country."

Murray said the area has always been deemed as an important point for transcontinental shipments, and will continue to play a major role.

"When you talk to some of the businesses in Thunder Bay, you think of Thunder Bay having 121,000 people in the census metropolitan area, but the rail infrastructure that's here is phenomenal for the size of the city. That's from moving goods to the port."

Ship in Thunder Bay

A Canada Steamship Lines vessel is docked at the Valley Camp Terminal in Thunder Bay. The ship is a strong reminder of how the city is heavily influenced by the transportation industry. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Murray said Thunder Bay is poised for success, because of its location, culture and affordability compared to many other major centres.

"Thunder Bay is sitting in a good spot. Do we have challenges? You bet we have challenges. But, I think that can be overcome by people that want to do that. I'm really optimistic about what the future will look like."