Range job fails to produce jobs, say job-holders

Over my lost weekend at O’Hare I missed this Bill Hanna story (subscription only, sorry) from the Mesabi Daily News that was reprinted in other SPC papers, including my column’s benefactor the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Headline: “[Iron Range Resources] position directly led to no new jobs.”

I almost did a spit take when I saw this. Not because I strongly agree or disagree, just this thought: “Well, we’re creaking the hinge on a mighty big steamer trunk today, aren’t we?”

The story essentially attempts a cost/benefit analysis of the new business development specialist contract position at Iron Range’s unique economic development agency, known locally as the IRRRB (IRR is the official acronym, IRRRB was two acronym’s ago and, thus by Range rules, interchangeable). Essentially, the agency spent $150,000 on fees and expenses for the recruitment and consulting services of Iron Range native and former Twin Cities entrepreneur David Richter, whose efforts since the beginning of the year, according to the story, have failed to yield any new jobs for the Iron Range. The story pits Richter’s justifications against the skepticism of State. Sen. David Tomassoni. Tomassoni says Richter “hasn’t created any home runs” and Richter argues that it’s not always about home runs, or as I will now dub it “the Nick Punto Defense.”

Accountability for these economic development efforts is fair game, in fact deeply needed. I seem to remember something about $9.5 million in Iron Range money wasted on just one recent boondoggle. The reason for the spit take, however, is that the Iron Range, through the IRR, cities, counties and nonprofits, is a vast, sprawling ecosystem of programs, spec buildings, initiatives, cohorts, study groups, lobbyists and dusty old offices filled with people licking envelopes that have also produced no new jobs since the mines hit the skids in ’82. It’s a veritable Pandoravich’s box.

I don’t have a dog in this fight; at least, not a specific dog — more like Aristotle’s ideal dog, a dog so great you cannot conceive of a greater dog. By this I mean I’m looking for any better way to create jobs on the Iron Range, better than the last 30 years of mad flailing and inside deals that occasionally strike a short bit of luck amid a sea of wasted time and money. That’s not to say economic development efforts, or all past or present efforts, are wasteful, just that most have failed. We’ve been doing our live action, decades-long musicless version of “The Music Man” for a good spell now while the world economy has been running hot laps around us.

I did an interview with Richter about entrepreneurship as a strategy in Iron Range economic development a few weeks back. Some professional twists and turns have kept me from getting the other interviews I wanted before I wrote some news analysis on the topic. I guess I didn’t think the subject would turn out to be so topical. Sorry about that. It’s getting good and topical now, ain’t it? I’ve got some more calls to make.

But the part of the story that had me floored was this little ditty at the very end of the story.

But [State Sen. and IRR Board chair David] Tomassoni said a better route may be to go with someone who is full-time in the area.

“Perhaps we should let someone who knows the area do it. We’ve got people like Gary Cerkvenik and Ron Dicklich (consultants who live on the Range) available. Commissioners always seem to hire someone outside the area.

“I’m not sure at this point. It just doesn’t seem to have worked,” the Chisholm state senator said.

I need a hot towel and a good rest after reading that.


  1. Lois Van Reese says

    Having read the article in the Grand Rapids Herald Review, I was confused as to the specific objection of the quoted “leaders”. Are they stating we need no economic development plan? Or are they furious that it wasn’t a local boy? I know some details behind the objection of having David Richter fill this role, and it’s all about hiring locally, not who might be best and have no ties to back room deals. My state representative (who stated he was opposed to hiring Richter originally) said we have 2 industries in the north…mining and tourism. Humm, didn’t we all see what a hiccup in the global economy did to both of these. And guess what, we had no diversification to fall back on to sustain us.
    Ya, let’s continue business as usual. Sooner or later it’ll all crumble.

  2. Anonymous says

    Do the taxpayers in Minnesota know that Essar has lobbied to remove from the its minneral leases the requirement to build a steel plant!!

    Why are they getting millions in state grant money when they dont want to keep their promise? why did the State agree to this. Most importantly why is this highly damaging change to the leases kept a secret from the public!!! The ceo of this company owes the taxpayers an explanation of the company’s actions and true intentions.

    Could Essar’s maneuvering have anything to do with its Canadian steel plant that needs more ore than the minnesota mine will produce.

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