Iron Range newspapers and TV stations have given considerable air time to a study sponsored by a pro-mining group showing that while tourism provides more jobs in Northern Minnesota, mining, railroading and shipping provide far better paying jobs.
From the Duluth News Tribune:
The [Mining Minnesota] study found current iron ore mining and directly related industries such as railroads and shipping employ 5,140 people earning $419 million annually, when all of the region’s operations are open and running. That compares to about 6,400 direct tourism jobs that total $116 million in earnings annually.
The mining jobs average more than four times the annual pay of the average tourism job, the study found.
“There’s a significant difference in the return of different industries. You have much more of an economic impact from mining jobs than tourism jobs,” Mark Schill, [polling firm] Praxis vice president and the study’s author, told the News Tribune.
My social media feed is full of people saying “Duh.” I suppose I agree with them. Mining jobs pay the best because it’s the most profitable industry we have and boasts the strongest private sector unions. Duh. What bugs me is the way people seem to think this changes anything about our situation. The study seems crafted to support a widespread tenet of conventional thinking. What’s interesting to me is everything the study doesn’t show about the economy of Northern Minnesota.
The threats of automation and globalization to mining jobs (and many others). Small town struggles to pay for infrastructure repairs, despite relatively high iron mining production. Challenges that keep people from starting new businesses, such as health care costs, startup funding, or lack of business skill or networks.
As the DNT also points out:
The study didn’t look at other large industries in the region, such as health care, which directly accounts for about 33,233 jobs in the Arrowhead region, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, or about six times the number of mining jobs.
Government workers and educators, and retail/service workers also outnumber the mining and tourism fields.
There are 200,000 people living in Northeastern Minnesota, depending on where you draw the borders. The fact that 5,000-some work in mining and 6,000-some work in tourism shows that pitting these two fields against each other (or even relying on them together) is a limiting, arguably self-defeating strategy for the future.
Of course we could welcome new mining (we don’t control that, by the way; investors do). Of course we could do more tourism. Of course we could do both. But in terms of our economic future, if we don’t address the much larger need for other economic activity and the lack of sustainability in government and retail sectors, we’re going to keep struggling as a region.
I understand the argument that a mining boom brings more economic activity. I would rebut that such activity is limited and often temporary. We have living examples of this over the past 30 years of booms and (mostly) busts in the industry.
If you’re the one out of ten Northern Minnesotans who draw paychecks from tourism or admittedly larger paychecks from mining, you’ve might have a lot invested in this study. The rest of us on the Iron Range — and there are many more of us — need to demand more than just false choices put out by politically motivated groups.