Recent efforts to revitalize Thompson’s winter weather testing industry seem to be paying off, and the move by the Thompson Regional Airport Authority to buy Ford’s cold weather testing assets could help attract new companies to the city for testing now that there will be facilities available for short-term use.
Originally, winter weather testing wasn’t really something that Thompson area businesses and organizations sought to create. Companies with products to test somehow found out about the city, decided it had some things they needed, like cold temperatures, a long winter and generally abundant early snow, and made do with what was available, renting out Mystery Mountain and the golf course for snowmobile testing, leaving cars parked in hotel parking lots unplugged on cold winter nights, then starting them up the next morning to see if they would turn over and what equipment would be working and what wouldn’t. Once individuals and businesses in Thompson saw that there was a market for qualities the city possesses — not only the climate but also remoteness combined with transportation access — more organized efforts were made to woo more customers. Eventually, jet engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney established their shared engine icing test facility just south of town. Everything was great.
Unfortunately for Thompson, other places also saw the potential of the winter weather testing industry and started trying to lure car makers, helicopter manufacturers and other companies to Alaska or Yellowknife. Thompson’s winter weather testing industry still existed but some companies that used to test here went elsewhere, and others established indoor test facilities with climate control that were closer to where they manufactured their products. An industry that sort of popped out almost out of nowhere for Thompson started to wither, if not from actual neglect, then perhaps from just not getting quite as much attention as it needed.
The fact that the city is situated in the right climate is what made it becoming a winter weather testing centre possible, but simply having cold weather is not enough. Business and industry are obviously profit-driven enterprises but, like all human endeavours, relationships play an important role. It isn’t enough to say “build it and they will come.” Proactive efforts like the recent winter weather testing conference in Winnipeg and Thompson organized by Sub Zero North, the entity tasked with managing and growing Thompson’s winter weather testing industry, must also be undertaken. Thanks to modern technology, you can find out a lot about Thompson without ever visiting here, including facts that some people would prefer being less easily accessible. But you can’t see the miles of mostly open road for real-world test driving or feel the chill of the November air or understand just how much frigging snow is on the ground without being here in person and on the ground yourself.
Creating and maintaining relationships takes work, while taking the other party for granted usually doesn’t end well. Cold weather isn’t enough to ensure a flourishing local winter weather testing industry and the warm welcome Thompson extended to conference participants could go a long way toward convincing companies that this is the right place for them to see how their products stand up to the rigours of a northern climate.