By Luke Popovich
Face it, this past decade has been hell for mining. From coal mining in Kentucky to mineral mining in Kazakhstan, the story is the same — the commodity boom turned to bust. Shares that once led the world’s major exchanges got hammered as demand from industrializing Asia evaporated and stagnant growth in the developed world compounded the pain. A supply glut soon swelled inventories.
“We move the Earth for you, and this is the thanks we get,” lamented miners from Australia to Zimbabwe.
But the sun also rises. Belatedly, but steadily, production began to adjust to a very different world. Big companies got smaller, shedding assets to pay down debt and cutting costs and capex plans to please investors. Small companies that didn’t disappear and those in the middle treaded water, anxiously looking for that recovery somewhere over the horizon. The financial press, feasting on the super cycle from its beginning to its equally spectacular end, was the only winner.
It’s time we gave them a new narrative. Very soon, the National Mining Association (NMA) will give market watchers something else to write about: the return, and possibly the resurgence, of global mining.
That’s part of the reason why thousands of mining equipment manufacturers this year decided to showcase their wares at MINExpo International 2016, NMA’s quadrennial exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada. There, on September 26-28, in the nation’s gambling mecca, mining companies and countries worldwide will lay down heavy bets that better days are coming for sales of haul trucks, electric shovels, safety gear and insurance policies. They’re betting that the world’s commodity diet is about to end, that hunger for metals, minerals and coal will bring the world’s economies back to the banquet table.
It wasn’t surprising that MINExpo 2012 was a record-breaker in spite of the commodity meltdown; companies booked floor space well in advance while markets were still humming. What may be surprising is that the 2016 bookings are breathing down the neck of 2012, with 841,000 square feet of exhibition space already sold in early summer and 1,860 exhibitors closing in on the 2012 record. Talk about sustainable industries.
We call MINExpo “international” because it is. Twenty-nine foreign delegations will attend this year, up from 20 in 2012. That’s not only a testament to mining’s global reach, but also to MINExpo’s global reputation. France and Sweden, known better for soccer than copper, will be among the new faces, joining mining super powers like Australia, China, Canada and Chile — all qualified buyers with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s seal of approval.
MINExpo highlights modern mining. Award ceremonies will once again honor the exemplary safety and environmental practices of the best U.S. companies. Twenty special sessions will offer continuing education on a variety of technical issues. Those exhausted by Vegas nightlife will find a respite from glitzy shows and tony restaurants in the bulk materials handling session.
But there’s no joking about what MINExpo 2016 will really showcase. It’s primarily, but not only, the extraordinary machines and technology that will be on display. Also on dramatic display will be the resilience and the importance of mining to the world economy.
By the end of the second day, some 50,000-plus people will have strolled through the Las Vegas Convention Center. They’ll see why mining is back: newer, smarter, more efficient and ready to move the Earth for future generations.
Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.