Range ‘Boom’ talk continues to intesify

The Duluth News-Tribune has another story of note today, one that asks the question “Is the Iron Range ready for all the change that will come if some of these major economic development projects come to fruition?” The full story is available here.

Exciting times, for sure. My only qualm is that it seems officials keep mentioning Excelsior Energy’s “Mesaba Energy Project” in the same breath as Polymet, Mesabi Nugget and Essar’s Minnesota Steel project. Excelsior’s thing remains a pipe dream that would drain more public resources than the project would be worth, economically-speaking. Nevertheless, the original question about the Range’s preparedness for change remains quite valid. Read the full story, or at least this excerpt:

Iron Range is preparing for a boom
Lee Bloomquist, Duluth News Tribune – 12/09/2007

As the Iron Range taconite industry expanded in the early 1970s, a temporary trailer park for hundreds of construction workers sprung up on the St. Louis County Fairgrounds in Hibbing. Workers had to move their trailers for a week to make way for the county fair before rolling them back onto the fairgrounds.

A similar scene is about to be played out again as the Iron Range braces for the biggest construction boom in more than 30 years.

Minnesota Steel’s steel mill, Mesabi Nugget’s iron nugget plant and PolyMet Mining Corp’s proposed copper, nickel and precious metals mine are alone projected to require 3,400 construction workers and about 1,300 permanent employees.

A $200 million Minnesota Power environmental control improvement project at
its Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset over the next three years will require up to 800 construction workers. Excelsior Energy’s proposed coal gasification power plant would need about 1,000 construction and 150 to 300 permanent workers.

“We are at a place in time where there’s potential for several large-scale projects to happen,” said Sandy Layman, Iron Range Resources commissioner. “I don’t think we’ve had this kind of investment since several of the taconite plants were built. It’s not only the dollar amount that’s unusual and historically important, but it’s also that these projects are higher value.”

The flood of construction, permanent and spin-off workers would alter economics, education, health, housing, civics, crime, transportation and ethnic diversity within a region that has a 100-year history of being a melting pot of people.

“After 27 years of economic depression, we will become the jewel of the steel industry in the Western Hemisphere,” said former state Sen. Ron Dicklich, now a consultant for Itasca County on the $1.6 billion Minnesota Steel project near Nashwauk. “We’ve always been a mining camp up here, and we have been treated like a mining camp. But now you’re going to have a large corporation located in our area. Just having a foreign owner [Essar Steel of India] here is going to be a big cultural change.”

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