Longyear buys Grand Rapids site; marks West Range growth

More signs of economic growth on the western Mesabi: The Itasca Economic Development Corporation has found a buyer for its Itasca Eco Industrial Park in Grand Rapids. This was the former Ainsworth lumber plant that closed in 2008. J.M. Longyear, LLC, just bought the whole thing.

GRAND RAPIDS, MN – On behalf of our board of directors and our many stakeholders from throughout the region, Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is pleased to announce the successful execution of a purchase agreement with J.M. Longyear, L.L.C., regarding the sale of 121.5 acres of land and all existing buildings at the Itasca Eco Industrial Park in Grand Rapids.

“We are thrilled with this most recent outcome of our negotiations with J.M. Longyear, as the Company works to invest in Itasca County and create much needed jobs in our region,” stated Mark Zimmerman, IEDC President and CEO. “While our thanks go out to the staff and management at Longyear for helping to produce an agreement which satisfies the needs of both parties, we extend our deepest gratitude to the community and business leaders of Itasca County for their ongoing support as we work to redevelop this vital community asset.”

Based in Marquette, Michigan, J.M. Longyear operates a number of upstream and downstream natural resource- based businesses in Michigan, Minnesota and Canada, including owning and managing over 165,000 acres of timberlands, mineral rights on over 160,000 acres, and downstream forest product and mineral processing businesses.

“We look forward to working with IEDC, APEX and our many economic development partners from throughout the state, as we strive to develop this ideal property into a sustainable industrial project to create value-added opportunities,” stated Steve Hicks, President & CEO of J.M. Longyear. “We are grateful to the IEDC team for its outstanding efforts in guiding and supporting the process to ensure a mutually beneficial transaction.”

The purchase agreement executed this month serves to formalize J.M. Longyear’s commitment to taking ownership of the anchor property at the Itasca Eco Industrial Park by the end of 2014.

John M. Longyear

Now, this is not just some random company, but the modern continuation of the private holdings of one John Munro Longyear, a pioneer of the early Michigan and Minnesota iron ranges. There are several places on the Iron Range named for the Longyear family, among them the iconic Longyear Lake in Chisholm, named for Longyear’s cousin E.J., who was in J.M.’s employ.

Longyear died in 1922, but not before he staked out the major ore reserves of Minnesota and Michigan. We’re talking land, timber rights and mineral rights. Old school.

Longyear, LLC, owns the rights to the land to be mined by Essar Steel in Nashwauk, so this move will surely support that effort. But having a company like this locate a large facility in the area suggest that Longyear might look to get involved in additional concerns.

Last year, Magnetation located its headquarters in Grand Rapids. This would be a second major mining interest to locate there. The locus of the Mesabi Range is shifting westward.

Now, there are many old arguments about whether or not Grand Rapids is really part of the cultural Iron Range. People in Grand Rapids often do not consider themselves such, and vice versa. But when you have two mining HQs and mine activity on the edge of your town, you are part of the Iron Range. Both the east Range and Grand Rapids purists are going to be dragged kicking and screaming into this new reality.

UPDATE: There’s more to this.

First of all, a reader pointed out that I neglected to mention Coleraine’s Longyear Park. That would have been a more appropriate example because Longyear, along with the mining expertise and forward-thinking of John C. Greenway, opened the whole of mining on the western Mesabi Iron Range — from Grand Rapids to Kelly Lake. So the city’s beautiful park is called Longyear and the school is called Greenway.

The Longyear heirs control 60 percent of the land Essar wants to mine. The rest is controlled by, among others, the Bennett family (Bennett Park in Hibbing, for those counting parks), the Pillsburys (George Pillsbury, scion of this storied Minnesota line, just passed away this week), the Great Northern Trust (which turns over to investors next year) and others.

So, if you really want to DaVinci Code this deal you can see a lot of moving plot element. I don’t know exactly what will come of it, but one can see that the Longyears buying an entire industrial park would portend a solid future for natural resource development on the western Iron Range.


  1. Aaron, do we know if this plant will produce pollution or noise? Thanks, Lily Winter

  2. Lily
    Can you think of a manufacturing process that doesn’t create pollution or noise?? OMG woman!

  3. Lily – The industrial park site is, at this time, a bit of a mystery. We don’t know exactly what Longyear’s plans are; they mostly handle land issues related to mining and timber interests. I don’t know whether they plan any operations there that would resemble industrial work.

    R47 – Relax. She means no harm. It’s a fair question, to which we have no answer yet.

Speak Your Mind


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