Nuance, nuance, nuance!

Since the dailies on the Iron Range went behind an online pay wall last year I’ve not read my region’s largest paper, the Mesabi Daily News, as often as I once did. I live on the other side of the Range where I subscribe to the Hibbing and Grand Rapids papers. It is telling, however, that the MDN, by way of editor/co-publisher Bill Hanna, leaves the paper’s unsigned editorials outside the pay wall, the only part of this valuable product afforded such status. It is as though having people read these editorials is more important to someone at the paper than the vast profits no doubt secured by the web strategy of the multinational corporation that owns this group. To give away such fine content must surely pain the bean counters, but the magnanimous gesture endures.

On Jan. 6, I wrote a commentary for Minnesota Public Radio entitled “Iron Range needs answers more nuanced than jobs, jobs, jobs.” Within, I describe a common theme in my writing, that Rudy Perpich’s famous description of the Range’s needs, “jobs, jobs, jobs,” is so often bastardized to justify haphazard, expensive and often unsuccessful economic development efforts when our problems stem from deeper economic and demographic concerns. You know, nuance.

Well, tucked away in an otherwise benign Jan. 15 MDN editorial congratulating Tony Sertich on his appointment as commissioner of the IRRRB is this turn of phrase:

The “jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra for the [Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation] agency must never be replaced by a more “nuanced” approach to economic development. It needs to be jobs, jobs, jobs and then more jobs.

Nuance as an abstract concept is not normally a target of MDN scorn, so I have to assume this goes back to the philosophical differences William and I have developed and the timing of my essay.

What am I supposed to say here? More nuance? Nuance, nuance, nuance!

I’ve got to say, the opposite of jobs is not nuance. The opposite of jobs is what we’ve had on the Iron Range since I was a child and Bill Hanna first blustered into town. The opposite of jobs is desperation and compromised logic. The opposite of jobs is humiliation at the hands of fast-talking developers. The opposite of jobs is the disappointment of educated professionals seeking a viable, self-sustaining economy that can endure fluctuations in copper or steel prices. The opposite of jobs is driving young people away.

Yelling “jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs” is no solution. The solution will require additional nouns and verbs, and a couple thousand new Iron Range residents who aren’t retired. Bellowing the same trite nonsense serves only to embarrass those trying to engage people in this state in a serious, 21st century discussion about the great potential of the Iron Range. We’ll get jobs, jobs, jobs when we use our brains, brains, brains.


  1. Since I’ve lived here, 34 years already, I’ve heard about this economic development but I haven’t seen it yet…just like I’ve never seen the Mine View in the Sky in Virginia. But I do believe that the Mine View is really there. The economic development? Well, not so much, unless it has to do with fewer people living in more houses, and more giant houses on the shores of lakes occupied by fewer people for fewer weeks of the year than the small lake cabins used to be.

    We need a listing of what has been tried and then we need an analysis of what the failed ideas have had in common, why they failed.

    Maybe we need board members of the IRRRB with more analytical skills instead of political connections.

    And fewer slogans.

  2. It doesn’t take a study…or another task force PS. It’s crystal clear…the anti-business climate the DFL’ers have estabished over decades is real. Look it up..

  3. “Anti businesses climate ” is also just a slogan.

  4. Anti business climate is more than a slogan, it’s where we live. Let the employer make some money and the employees will get jobs. How hard is that? How many of you would start a business to lose money just to give someone a job? The governing elites (I call them idiots) have complicated the job market with more words, regulations & rules that the folks are confused. I refute the notion we are a consumer driven economy, to be successful we have to produce/manufacture it then buy it for america to stay strong. I repeat “Let employer make a buck then the employees will have jobs. K Edwards

  5. Easy to point fingers.
    What have you done to help? What proportion of your purchases are made in the USA? Sheesh, even juice is coming from China. Sometimes the hamburger says US Mexico OR Canada. We are buying our own demise. Gotta watch those labels, even if it means buying less, which most of us could easily do. Sorry this is annon as I am a regular on here, but I’m not on my computer so I can’t change the settings. LJGG

  6. I point the finger at the politicians that say we’re a consumer driven economy we don’t need to produce/manufacture (Nancy Pelosi) and anybody who would vote for someone who said that or even thought that. We get the idiots we vote for, so in the end we have ourselves to blame for the mess we’re mired in. K Edwards

  7. Oh, it’s more than a slogan….

    We’ve lost the headquarters of State Farm. We’ve lost Schwann’s. We’ve lost Viessman Trucking. We’ve lost Anderson Trucking. We’ve lost Hill Stainless Steel. We lost Whirlpool. We’ve lost 3M. We’ve lost Dayton Hudson. We’ve lost Honeywell. The reality is if you don’t work with businesses, they leave….the jobs go with them.

    Minnesota ranks 43rd in the 2011 Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. The Index compares the states in five areas of taxation that impact business: corporate taxes; individual income taxes; sales taxes; unemployment insurance taxes; and taxes on property, including residential and commercial property.

    A slogan? You’re in denial..

  8. Anon#7, of course we’re 43 in total taxes, how else could we have the give aways we have in our state unless we tax the businesses out of here. Dayton’s idea for helping the state is to pass the other 7 states and become the worst place in the world to relocate your business. Should be interesting to watch. Dayton did say he wanted to balance state deficit on the backs of those filthy, fat cat successful people. Wow, we wonder why people don’t want to bring industry here. K Edwards

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. First of all, “look it up” guy is back. Hiya, pal.

    There are things that can be solved in the comments section of a regional blog and things that cannot. If you want an argument about the state’s corporate taxes, fine, but I’m not going to get into that tonight. Take it to the Strib. Are we talking about Minnesota generally or the Range specifically? If the latter, I’ll need more local examples. And I’m sorry, I’ve said it before, and will again repeat that there’s more to a successful community than dirt low corporate tax rates and busting unions. South Dakota is getting a lot of attention these days for it’s poaching of low hanging fruit, but it’s still South Dakota. I don’t want to live there and I never will.

    Good evening, gentlemen.

  11. OK Aaron…in the spirit of avoiding “pride cometh before a fall”, I’ll turn to you for help.

    Name for me a few businesses(jobs) which have come to the Range seeking high taxes and an adversarial(union) atmosphere between itself and it’s workers.

  12. As a hard line DFL’er for over 40 years living up here, I can tell you the canned response to oppressive taxes; quality of life cost money. With our towns in disrepair and education on the decline, it rings hollow in 2011. I have changed parties and ideology the last dozen years. I realized all the hard stands I took on the liberal side sounded good and made me feel like I was into helping folks and the environment, but in reality I was just enabling and hurting the folks and area I was trying to help. K Edwards

  13. Your rhetorical devices are adorable. I’ll answer that question when you tell me when it is you stopped beating puppies with a stick. Was it recently or long ago?

    I kid, of course. Your question is a false one. You assume that union/mgmt relations have to be adversarial. They don’t. But I think we just did whole “litigate the existence of unions” thing last weekend. Let us just say that while we disagree at times about the best way to grow small business and create jobs that key elements of Range ec. dev. planning over the past 15 years have failed and a new strategy is in order. I doubt we’d agree in full on the solution, but there remains the opportunity for overlap in our visions and that’s a good starting point.

  14. That was obviously in response to #12, not you K. Edwards. I don’t personally agree that a whole scale party switch is the best solution, but your frustration with conditions on the Range in recent decades is understandable.

  15. Geez Aaron, if you write off the asking for a “list of a few companies”(a tangible request) as a “false question”, what would you suggest as “opportunity for a good starting point” to improve our “decades of frustrating conditions”?

  16. Aaron , don’t worry about offending me, I believe that an honest dialog about what we can do to help the area we call home is productive. If I had all the answers I’d fix The Range. I enjoy a blog where we can all disagree on policies but agree this is a great place to live. K Edards

  17. You missed my point. You are asking a question that has no answer because it is worded in a biased way. I doubt this is a surprise to you because you seem smart enough to have planned it that way.

    I further doubt I have to explain to you how businesses make decisions about starting, moving, closing, expanding or contracting. Yes, corporate taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes are all factors, as are labor costs and flexibility. There is product or service supply and demand, transportation, and (and I’ve said this before) quality of life for the owner, his/her family and his/her workers. Available workforce and education. It goes on.

    And this leads us right back where we were. Lower corporate taxes would indeed relieve the bottom line of new or existing businesses, which could allow expansion (a good thing). Lower cost contracts, or no contracts, would allow cheaper labor. But that won’t necessarily improve the quality of life in a community. Lower income means, in no particular order, higher crime, more expensive educational and health care problems, lower retail sales and perhaps most importantly reduced quality workforce, which increases turnover and reduces efficiency.

    Now, maybe these differences are a wash. Maybe I’m right in assuming that the quality of life of a community is as important as tax structure. Maybe you’re right that when we appease developers and business owners the jobs rain down like an April shower. The point is that this is a continuum, and that there are areas where it’s possible that we both have a valid point. That’s all I’m saying.

    I have posited that the Range’s situation boils down to a simple problem: we must first stop and then reverse the loss of young, working families and their school age children. I don’t know that the party regulars on either side can promise a solution to that problem, and so I am indeed open to ideas from any corner of the continuum.

  18. Jobs will keep young families here on the Range. My generation had jobs and opportunity to start up businesses here in the early to mid 70’s. Many of us went to college, came back to work for a family business or start up one of our own. The graduating classes in Hibbing were 350-425. Many of my friends who didn’t go to college started working in the mines and were raising families here. The environment for business was very inviting with construction and mining booming. This was 10 years after they had claimed the Range DEAD. They were changing over from iron ore to taconite and our way of life was done. How quickly it changed. The nay sayers were claiming this new taconite was low grade ore and it wouldn’t fly. Reminds me of the nay sayers of Polymet and what it could do for our region. I’ve been through it before, it can be done. Keep the faith and vote for people that will allow the business men to take risks like taconite. An Old Ranger

  19. Hi Aaron:

    Sorry, but I must …

    Magnanimous : )

    Benign : )

    Blustered : )

    Trite : )

    Made me laugh! Definitely not nuanced!

  20. Pretty hard to get families to stay without jobs. Pretty hard to get jobs without employers. Unions don’t create jobs, at best they can co-exist with jobs. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have unions but their role needs to be commensurate with what they produce.

  21. I think that’s all true, but two things come to mind. 1) Companies create jobs when they have work. Sustainable job growth involves more work, not just jobs. That means we need not a prescribed “job” target, but the goal of a functional, diverse economy that creates more work. And 2) a lot of the new jobs we have a shot at getting are sole proprietor businesses, freelancers and creative workers-for-hire. Those jobs won’t even involve unions; and they’ll flourish if the persons who do them have access to affordable health insurance and the tools they need to work (high speed internet, schools and training).

  22. If affordable health care is an issue, repealing the new Obamacare should be a priority of all. Talk to any business man and he’ll tell you the new laws are convoluted, unclear and surely to raise cost of small businesses who offer health insurance to employees. It’s why Director of HHS has granted waivers to 270 different businesses.

  23. Aaron…You’re academia only stripes are showing. Good companies create “things” at a price that people are willing to pay. I know of no good companies which have an objective of “creating work”.

    Communues strive to “create work”. The old Soviet Union strove to “create work”. The French government attempted to “create work” by making it illegal for anyone to work beyond..first 38 hours, then down to 32 hours. It didn’t work. Productivity nose-dived. Companies moved out. Work was created by snow plow drivers slowing down.

    A terrible path for the Range to go down. Keep your idea low-key Aaron, it’s an investment & job killer.

  24. #22, that’s a whole can of worms you’re opening. I don’t love everything about the new law, but it changes some things that MUST change and so I welcome it as a good start. Some of what you describe is on the docket to be changed. Repeal is just political theater. You going to go back to the draconian way insurance companies handled people with cancer? I think not. And anyway, what I was talking about was the ability for indies to buy their own insurance. In many cases it was just unaffordable to strike out on your own before, and that is getting better. If it isn’t, it should.
    #23, your partisan blinders are showing. Here we go with the Soviets and communism again. That’s old thinking. Anyway, if you’d lay off old, dead Nikita for a second you’d realize we’re talking about the same thing. Businesses hire PEOPLE when they have WORK for those PEOPLE to do. I’m not going to discriminate what that work should be. BUSINESSES will decide. A business owner doesn’t go around saying, “I sure would like to create some jobs today.” He or she is more apt to say, I have a demand and I need to meet that demand and I need more engineers, laborers or designers or whoever to do it.

  25. I realize you’re at a disadvantage Aaron never having run a business but…listen closely, good businesses do not necessarily hire more people when demand increases, when they need more product.

    They look at the most effective way they can get more product(or similar product) to meet customer demand.

    Sometimes it’s done through buying a more productive peice of equipment, sometimes it’s done through asking the current people to work more efficiently, sometimes it’s done by offering another product which is easy to produce, sometimes it’s done by outsoucring (buying the product from another company and re-selling it).

    The last thing, no…something that’s never, on their mind is creating more work.

  26. Yes, your smug condescension adds so much to this debate. Yes, efficiency, but we’re talking about jobs, right? Hiring, right? You hire when you need people and can afford it. We are saying the same thing. My family ran two businesses as I was growing up and many members of my family run small businesses now. You want a fight, go somewhere else. At least have enough respect to step outside the narrative you have in your head when I am reaching out to agree with you on some things.

  27. It’s unfortunate you take offensive so easily Aaron…

    I’ve simply responded to YOUR comment #21 suggesting “we need not a prescribed “job” target, but the goal of creating more work”.

    I’m suggesting that you don’t turn to businesses expecting them to create work, they won’t. (and in turn, gave you a few examples of institutions that have been know to create work)..

  28. You are free to make presumptions, but 28 comments in we are getting nowhere. I stand by that comment. You are interpreting it all wrong. You are assuming I mean “busy work” like paving a river bed or something. That’s not what I mean at all. Work means services or goods people want, and businesses provide the supply while customers provide the demand. This post was about the Range, where we have used “jobs, jobs, jobs” as a metric, throwing around figures like jobs were widgets produced in a factory. They are not. Permanent jobs are created in a stable economy. That is what I want. I have said this at least three times here and 100 more times in the last year on this blog. I think you know this and I think you get jollies out of pissing me off.

    When I talk public policy I’m not just talking the bottom line of a business owner, but everyone who lives in a community. Yes, the business owner matters a great deal, but so too do the workers you talk about making more efficient, by which you mean paying them less per hour to make you more profitable.

    Try your luck with China, my friend. Try your luck running your businesses in places where poverty has been holding for 20 generations. You will long for Minnesota. If you don’t, then we are at an impasse.

  29. No Aaron…making employees more efficient doesn’t mean paying them less to make more.

    You’ve obviously never worked in a company where employees all work to eliminate waste, to work under leadership where everyone works as a team to identify bottlenecks in processes, to collectively offer alternatives to eliminate unproductive activities, then systematically study new ways to work…and together implement them. And then watch the employee gratification as they see the company become more and more competitive..and grow due to their ideas.

    You’ve maybe never felt the pride in the community knowing they’re blessed to have such a company in their midst.

    And you’ve probably never experienced the joy that comes with watching kids of parents apply for and get jobs at the same companies their parents so proudly worked for. Companies where owners/shareholders and employees all contribute to the United Way, to little league programs, to community centers.

    I sense you’ve never worked at a company like that Aaron, and there are many of them around…If you had I don’t think you’d speak of them being so lowly, so evil. Good companies know they’re only as good as their employees…and treat them with utmost respect.

  30. Oh…Regarding China, maybe you’ve been there as well, but my experience? The tremendous challenges in front of them are well known…but they believe in education, are driven and have come a long way.

    On the measure we were discussing, China’s past 20 year annualized per capita GDP growth is just under 14%.

    The U.S. is just over 4%.

    Yes, I’m biased, having grown up on the Range and lived in Minnesota most of my life, I prefer it. But..Chinese would be a useful language for our kids to learn. We’re becoming more and more indebted to them..

  31. Good, now we are both mad. I think if we sat down and talked we’d be able to get further than doing this. You describe a very productive workplace and I appreciate that. I don’t appreciate the insinuation that because I’ve not worked in a private sector open shop manufacturing company that you presume I and those like me have nothing to offer. My money spends the same. Union workers care. Government workers care. People don’t become social workers or special ed teachers for their health or financial security. It is a big world that will require a little understanding of the other side. It may not always seem it here, but I do try to understand your point of view.

  32. Thanks for listening and trying to understand others points of view…Your perspective is appreciated as well.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.