‘Economic cauldron of neglect’ … um, in a good way?

Iron Range newsLast summer I met Gene Rebeck, writer for Twin Cities Business, who covers northern Minnesota news for that publication. He was writing a column about the Iron Range economy and was kind enough to include my thoughts in his August 26 column “Forward, into the Past.”

I must have been in quiet a mood that day.

At the same time, a great many Iron Range residents north of Duluth are eager for the jobs that PolyMet could bring in—unemployment remains relatively high, and mining jobs are now some of the best paying in the state.

But there are a lot fewer of them than there used to be. In the early 1980s, “the steel industry and thus the taconite industry began a 12-year transition to a more efficient, mechanized, market-responsive model,” says Aaron Brown, a journalist, educator, and blogger who’s lived nearly all his life on the Iron Range. That transition also would lead to “the end of overstaffed mines and the largess that dominated the industry in the 1970s. With that came far fewer jobs, and the continued bleeding of population.”

While the 1990s would turn out to be a funeral for the 20th century Iron Range, few saw it that way at the time, Brown says. And the new century has brought back a strong demand for iron ore. “But what remains outside the mines is a vast economic cauldron of neglect,” he adds.

Maybe there was a nicer way I could have said that. Like … vast chasm of economic sadness? No, wait. Diversifi-can’t-yet? OK. That’s a little better.

I do agree with Rebeck’s conclusion:

What the Northland needs for its future prosperity, perhaps even more than gold or iron, is an entrepreneurial mindset—particularly among younger people who love the region for its own sake, rather than for what can be pulled out of it.


  1. That last paragraph speaks volumes. As a “young” person myself, I would love to start a business in Biwabik – a coffee/pastry shop perhaps – but the risk is too great to go at it alone. Ninety percent of the workforce of Biwabik commutes and the remaining population wouldn’t support it. Sustainability is going to take vision and collaboration, with Rangers and outsiders meshing resources ($) and goals. I look at Giants’ Ridge and Biwabik and see so much potential if the two could work together, and maybe some of that is happening, but it isn’t visible. And I think it CAN happen, and it doesn’t take excavating earth to do it.

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