It takes some gumption to start a mining company in your London, Ont. basement and name it Fortune Minerals.
Presumably, the name refers to the fortune such a company some day would deliver to its employees and shareholders. Or perhaps Robin Goad chose the name because he knew he would need a serious dose of good fortune to make his fledgling venture a success. Either way, Goad created Fortune Minerals in 1988 and took it public the following year, peddling over-the-counter penny stocks and working part-time as a mining consultant to cover some of the costs of his new business.
In 1996, Fortune discovered deposits of gold, copper, cobalt and bismuth not far from Yellowknife in the NWT. As you can read in this month’s Business London cover story, the company has been working to mine the area ever since. There’s reason to believe it could start extracting minerals by 2016, two decades after making the original find. Mining is not a industry for the impatient.
In the mid-90s, the copper and gold might have been the headline from the discovery. But since then, the world has changed. Lead is now a four-letter word, drummed out of paint, pipes and water supplies, by law and moral suasion, around the world. And it just so happens bismuth is an ideal substitute for lead in a variety of industrial applications -- without any of the health concerns. Bingo. Fortune’s NWT mine has 12 per cent of the world’s known bismuth reserves.
How about cobalt? Would you believe it’s a primary ingredient in the ultra-sophisticated lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries that power so much of the developed world every day? Cordless appliances and tools; smart phones, laptops and tablets; electric cars and so much more.
Even though a barrel of oil costs about the same as a barrel of monkeys right now, Tesla is going ahead with a $5-billion lithium-ion battery plant in Nevada. It won’t take a Keystone pipeline to get the cobalt – which will be processed at a Fortune facility near Saskatoon – to the Nevada desert facility.
When Fortune made its original find, no one had heard of Elon Musk and his quixotic Tesla Motors, the company leading the world toward a future of electric cars that people actually want to drive.
Fortune appears to be well situated. But it’s still waiting to sell its first ounce of bismuth or cobalt to anyone. So last year, it made a huge strategic move and purchased an operating silver mine in Colorado. More than tripling its workforce, it instantly became a producing mine, rather than simply a speculative one. Only trouble is the price of silver, like all commodities, has plummeted in the last four months. Oh, and the mine turned out to be a bit of a fixer-upper. So it hasn’t provided any net revenue as yet. “But it will within the next month or so,” says Goad.
If it does, and if the bismuth and cobalt start flowing in the next 24 months, the name of Goad’s company might well suit it. If not? Well, the company has another mine site in B.C., where it has rare anthracite coal. But that is going to take even longer to develop.
And so goes the mining industry. Years of hope and despair, punctuated by stunning success and crushing defeats. Fortune is poised for one of the former. And in mining terms, it could happen any day now.