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Winter weather testing body signs agreements with federal government and a college

Memorandums of understanding with Transport Canada’s Innovation Centre and Mohawk College intended to strengthen SubZero North partnerships related to cold weather testing.

SubZero North, the organization that facilitates and promotes winter weather testing in and around Thompson, signed memorandums of understanding with the federal government and an Ontario college at the cold weather campus by the airport on Jan. 24.

Established by the Thompson Community Development Corporation with support from other economic development organizations like Communities Economic Development Fund and Community Futures North Central Development, SubZero established MOUs with Transport Canada’s Innovation Centre and with Mohawk College, which had an instructor in Thompson over the past two weeks training northerners to become certified drone operators.

“It solidifies and establishes what we've been doing a little bit more ad hoc over the last year or so,” said Mark Robbins, manager of venture projects at the Innovation Centre — “basically the research and development branch.”

Springing from what was initially a one-off collaboration, the memorandum began when the Innovation Centre came to Thompson in 2022.

“The first seeds of this were really planted in February last year,” Robbins says. “We came out here for what we thought might have been a one-and-done collaboration, but just found it was an excellent environment to work in so we just kept on coming.”

Establishing a formal understanding should help ensure continuity should the faces of the Innovation Centre and SubZero north change, Robbins say, creating a structure that will outlast any one individual in the two organizations.

The other memorandum is with Mohawk College and was signed by professor Richard Borger*, who was in town training two Thompsonites as certified drone operators.

“This is actually a really big growth opportunity for us at the college to be extending to the northern testing world,” said Borger. “Thank you very much for entertaining this and working with us on this relationship together and we’re looking forward to working together.”

Curtis Ross, Thompson Regional Airport Authority CEO and long-time partner in Thompson cold weather testing with Honda, said establishing more partnerships bodes well for the future of the Thompson winter weather testing campus adjacent to the airport terminal, which was purchased from Ford and local Ford dealership owners the Kelleher family at the tail end of last year, with the airport authority taking possession of the facilities in December.

“I've been in this business for a long time,” said Ross. “I continue to watch and be amazed to see it grow, to see things, partnerships being created. We believe in SubZero, the brand has a big brand in the city of Thompson. We hope to build on that brand. Congratulations to all of you because none of this gets done in isolation. This is a team effort. So congratulations and we look forward to the continued cooperation from all from all entities.”

Developing the MOUs was also praised by Thompson elected representatives including Mayor Colleen Smook, who lauded the parties’ forward thinking, and Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton.

“The federal government is a key partner when it comes to pushing forward opportunities for our work relating to our climate,” she said, noting that Northern Manitoba has the infrastructure and human resources to support the industry and is also close to the front lines of climate change, which affects northern regions in various ways that present challenge and opportunities.

Laura Finlay of Community Futures North Central Development says that although the winter weather testing industry in Thompson is long-established when it comes to vehicles, whether it’s snowmobiles, cars and trucks, or jet engines like those that are tested at GLACIER’s facility south of town, new technologies present new opportunities and further opportunities for expanding the local winter testing industry.

“The main focus for subzero really is the real world testing,” she said. “There's a whole world out there — new tech — that needs testing.”

* This article has been edited to correct Richard Borger's name. The Thompson Citizen apologizes for the error.

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