SME President's Page

Bob Schafer

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... it was the winter of despair, it was the spring of hope, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ..." and so on.

For explorers as well as base and precious metals miners, and even the iron ore, met coal and construction materials producers, 2020 and a few years beyond were anticipated to be promising times. Warehouse inventories of almost all metals were near all-time lows. Mine suspensions and closures were occurring due to resource nationalism, and worker unrest in Africa and Latin America set the stage for commodity shortages, so the prices of many metals were to advance in a growing global economy. Precious metals were coming out of their funk because inflation was looming in the near term. Infrastructure projects were going to move forward, so construction materials would be in demand. The trade war with China was showing signs of relief, so there would be increasing demand for the mined materials that go into a manufacturer’s products. Each of these stimuli pointed to better times in the near future. Then in Q4 2019 the first signs of highly contagious COVID-19 began to show in Wuhan, China, and pretty soon the world was thinking pandemic as it viciously spread. Everyone was admonished to "stay home and stay healthy" in order to halt the spread of the virus. Societies and industries essentially shut down.

It is now mid-April, and as I write this column for the May issue, we need to look beyond the calamity of the present and think about and prepare for the positive actions needed in the future. When the world shuts down, a proclamation or executive order does not turn on a switch to instantaneously re-ignite the complex interactions of local and global governments, small and mega industries, states and communities, economic flows of retail and banking, air-sea-land transportation logistics and many more interconnected components that make the world as we know/knew it work relatively smoothly.

Although it may not seem like it right now, some positive opportunities will certainly emerge from this global pandemonium. Yes, positive inertia will require the best of leadership, planning and implementation to get both the big world and our personal islands right again. There are now indicators that the worst of the pandemic may be behind us. However, returning to normalcy will be a challenge over the next several months. There will undoubtedly be losers and winners. At times, it may be difficult to identify a silver lining to an economic restart. Yet in the moments of crisis we are all largely showing that people can communicate, cooperate and collaborate to make day-to-day efforts successful - except maybe the partisan politicians.

Where will we find this positive inertia? First, we need to get the ball rolling. For mining and underground construction, activities will ramp up over time as many operations and projects are gradually restarted from care-and-maintenance status. Some people will be mobilized to remote sites and supply chains and timely deliveries of critical components will be re-established.

It is my belief that our industry will play a key role in the return to a new normal. An argument can be made that because mining is the industry that identifies, recovers and delivers the materials that restart the manufacturing and commercial cycle, it is also one of the most important job and economic multipliers of all businesses and is, therefore, the key to economic recovery.

There are very few people who have the vision to know all of the moving economic parts, can create the links so they fit together and provide the right type and quantity of economic and social accelerants to move the stalled machinery that comprise local and global economies and communities. Actions do not necessarily have to come from the political top to be effective. To recover from the quagmire and restart the economies of the world smoothly, we need "statesmen and stateswomen" (not necessarily political leaders) who rise to the occasion and integrate the complexities of a world that is emerging from its suspended status. Statesmen in mining need to emerge and point the way as our industry may have the longest perspective on the components that are the drivers of modern living. The mining industry as a leader must recognize and voice the need to be on the same page to make social and economic recovery succeed and minimize severe dislocations. This can be our time to improve the image of mining.