KAST gets big funds from feds

Government invests almost $750,000 to help boost mining and metals industry

It was a great day for KAST (Kootenay Association for Science and Technology) Monday when Kootenay Columbia MP David Wilks announced more than $748,000 in federal funding to set up a metallurgical incubator in Trail.

The money from the Western Diversification Program will go toward setting up Metallurgical Industrial Development Acceleration and Studies, or MIDAS for short.

The sector-targeted applied research and commercialization centre will provide downstream metallurgical expertise, a digital fabrication laboratory and business development support for the region.

About 50 people gathered at the old Firebird Technologies location in Glenmerry to hear from guest speakers about the golden opportunity. The centre will assist with the establishment and growth of small and medium sized enterprises by strengthening the direct-to-market deployment of mineral/metal by-products.

“Good things happen in small communities and we found as Firebird that we could actually take some products, especially metallurgical by-products from Teck, and make small industry happen,” said Don Freschi, entrepreneur in-residence for KAST and former CEO of Firebird.

“That was a success story—we started an incubator in this exact building and we turned that into a multi-million dollar company, which we sold years ago.”

He expects the same success for his new company Fenix Advanced Materials, which just started operating in his old stomping grounds.

He and a small team will be making high-purity metals through a similar process of Firebird by specializing in the blending of metals that are then grown into crystals.

The semi-conducting, metallic crystals are fashioned into optical components for heat-reading lenses, navigational aids and other technologies.

On behalf of the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, Wilks touched on the value of the mining and metals industry as an economic driver, noting that companies within B.C. reported $8.2 billion in revenue last year.

Providing a centre to get ideas into the production stage is key for the stream of entrepreneurs sitting on the metallurgical committee of the Lower Columbia Community Development Team Society, which works to advance the social and economic strength in the Lower Columbia communities of the province. KAST is a member of this committee and saw first hand the potential just sitting around the round table, according to Erin Handy, the organization’s executive director.

“We have a really strong team with all these ideas for the potential that the community has because of our proximity to the smelter and so we have lists of ideas and not a ton of resources and that’s a really hard place to be in terms of financial and in terms of human capacity,” she said. “We thought, how do we ignite this? How do we take all this potential and get things flowing?”

The funding will do just that.

The centre will also work closely with Selkirk College’s digital fabrication experts, who are already committed to mentoring entrepreneurs as well as potentially hosting courses there as part of regular curriculum.