The question facing the Iron Range

I had another conversation about the Iron Range yesterday. I have these talks from time to time. Along with a few working historians, a few journalists and no shortage of political leaders, I’m one of the people who get the call when someone wants the story — the real deal — about the Iron Range region of northern Minnesota.

So here’s the question. How much of the future of a place like the Iron Range is set in providence by our mining economy and how much can be changed by the people who live here? This is a proxy fight for fate vs. free will.

This upcoming year I aim to revisit my novel, a great challenge that somehow seems easier than answering this question.


  1. My sister lives in an area of Wisconsin that has the lakes, but not the mining and farming, and has some logging. Comparing that area and the opportunities to the Iron Range is like comparing a fruit basket to an apple, even with the decline here.

    I guess that means that we would be nothing without the diversity we have. Jobs based solely on the beauty of the area don’t pay enough to give people money to do anything extra.

  2. For the next generation at least, the mining industry will overwhelmingly dominate our future. The sheer size of the industry itself, combined with the size of the vendors that support the mining industry makes that the case. Sure, we can replace 100 lost mining jobs with 100 “E-whatever” jobs, but those 100 new jobs don’t lead to business for rebuilding mining equipment, selling shovel teeth, or supplying refractory.

    That doesn’t mean I’m fatalistic on our future, I just know that our economic diversification efforts need to be for the long haul.

  3. Having lived through the iron ore to taconite transition, I’m confident that the Range with it’s abundance of minerals will survive. The economy here will still be driven by mining, but how and what we mine may change. Logging will always be here also. I read an article by Steve Morse from MN Environmental Partnership in the Mpls trib yesterday. It is guys like him who are warning of the dangers of copper mining and telling Cravaack to listen to his constituents about what they want. Hey Steve, Cravaack heard what we want up here JOBS JOBS JOBS. The DNR & EPA are more of a danger to our area than any mining operation. Steve, go up to Ely, listen to some Cat Stevens and talk to those tree huggers. Leave us miners alone…. K Edwards

  4. Hey now, leave Cat Stevens out of this!

    Keep the discussion going. I’ll have more thoughts on this for a commentary I’m writing, maybe I’ll even chime in here later. It’s my birthday and I need to do something else today, like go see True Grit in town and eat a steak.

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