The Kentucky / Iron Range comparison

As some of you know, I am one of several people who claim the title “Former Editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.” (There are more of us than there are licensed pilots in many large western states). It’s a tough job but an important one. The Tribune just hired a new editor after publisher Wanda Moeller served in a [dual] editor/publisher role during the paper’s recent ownership transition.

Mike Jennings is the Tribune newsroom’s new leader, the fourth since I left the editor post in 2003. Jennings, a North Carolina native, comes to the paper after two decades of newspaper work in Kentucky and additional years in Alabama and North Carolina. In his first Sunday column today, Jennings points out the differences between the coal mining areas of Kentucky and the iron mining area where we live in Northern Minnesota. He argues that the Iron Range Resources agency and its unique system of taxing the ore mined from the ground and holding the revenue for regional improvements is why we enjoy a much better quality of life than the folks in Kentucky’s coal country. It’s a must-read for those interested in Range politics and culture. I’d post a link, but it’s not online yet. I will instead refer you to the actual printed paper, available at local gas stations for $1.25. Think of it as a 3D portable blog. I’ll post the link if it becomes available Monday.

(Full disclosure: I am still a paid columnist for the Tribune and, as such, Jennings is technically “the boss of me.” I am not kissing up, though. I swear.)

UPDATE: It was a typographical error, not a fruedian slip that I referred to Wanda’s position as editor/publisher as a “duel” role. At least you can’t prove otherwise. The error has been corrected.

UPDATE 2: Jennings’ column is online now. Here is an excerpt:

There are vast cultural differences between Appalachia and the Iron Range, but both regions have historically been exploited by robber barons who converted resources to wealth and kept all but a pittance for themselves.

In his history of the first half-century of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), Dana H. Miller described the region’s landscape 70 years ago as “a waste land of pits, dumps and scraggly second-growth timber.”

That sounds a lot like Eastern Kentucky then and now. But to eyes conditioned by the sight of Kentucky mountaintops leveled by strip mining, there’s little about the Iron Range today that suggests a wasteland.

The same holds for the human environment. Schools on the Iron Range are strong. The economy is diversifying in promising ways, some related to mining, some not. People here have understandable anxiety about coming changes, but they also have hope.

What accounts for the difference? One factor that clearly separates the modern history of the two regions is the mandate and performance of IRRRB, which entered the picture in 1941, championed by then-Gov. Harold Stassen.

Thanks to its founding legislation, Iron Range Resources (IRR), as it is now known, uses a dedicated funding source—revenues collected from the mining industry in lieu of property taxes—to strengthen and diversify the region’s economy. That money is well shielded from raids for other uses.


  1. I like the freudian “duel.”

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