Iron Range Makerspace: Making something new

Maker spaces like this one allow people to use technology to experiment with their own ideas. The Iron Range Makerspace aims to do the same in Northern Minnesota. (FryskLab, Flickr CC).

Maker spaces like this one in Holland allow people to use technology to experiment with their own ideas. The Iron Range Makerspace aims to do the same in Northern Minnesota. (FryskLab, Flickr CC).

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

In 2014, engineering student Andrew Hanegmon of Hibbing was walking through downtown Pittsburgh when something in a window caught his eye. It was a person working with a laser engraver. He went into the building to find an active maker space, a sensory smorgasbord of computers, electronic equipment, lathes, saws, 3-D printers and more.

“I am a tinkerer,” said Hanegmon. “I am always making something. This space was just amazing to me. It was the place that I had always wanted to be in, but it was in Pittsburgh not at home.”

He left Pittsburgh determined to bring the idea home to Minnesota’s Iron Range, an fitting reversal of the way Minnesota’s iron ore heads to the hometown of U.S. Steel.

Last month, I wrote about the merits of maker spaces as laboratories for tinkers, developers, crafters, artists, and youth. Unbeknownst to me, Hanegmon and fellow students in the Iron Range Engineering program housed at Mesabi Range College in Virginia were already working on launching the Iron Range Makerspace.

At first, Hanegmon sought a maker space company to locate on the Iron Range. Several exist, but most are based in large cities. After striking out, Hanegmon didn’t want to let the idea go.

“I had not intended to be the one to do this at first, but I started to think about it,” said Hanegmon. “So, I finally decided well it’s time to stop talking and start doing.”

Hanegmon and his colleagues proposed the maker space as a senior entrepreneurship project for his program at Iron Range Engineering, a unique cohort of engineering students affiliated with Minnesota State University at Mankato. They created the Iron Range Makerspace, a new organization set to launch an active maker space later this year. Hanegmon will privately fund the organization’s startup through business loans, though area businesses will donate some of the equipment. The remaining operating costs will be covered by member dues.

With the current downturn in the iron mining industry weighing heavily on the region, Hanegmon sees the Iron Range Makerspace as a way to unite the region’s need for economic diversification with existing tinkers, craftsmen, artists, and industry. The space will provide community, tools, training and something else — specialty workspace for new small businesses and their employees.

“There is massive potential when you teach a man to fish like the old analogy says,” said Hanegmon, a graduate of Hibbing High School and the Hibbing Community College engineering program. “We will be doing everything we can to teach each other how to fish. We want to increase the skill sets that our community has. If the industry trends in our area continue we will need more dynamic employees who can adapt to the changes.”

Hanegmon describes the goals of the maker space to be a safe place for people to use varied tools to create things individually and in teams. The organization will react to economic and technological trends, while operate in a transparent manner for its dues-paying members. Hanegmon said the dues will be set to be affordable for most, and hopes that companies consider buying memberships for their employees as a benefit and as a means to generate new ideas.

“Right now, I think that we have a lot of entrepreneurs, intellectual people, and industrial folk who are scattered across the Range in places where they don’t interact,” said Hanegmon. “All of these people are part of the Iron Range “team.” I see the maker space as the Iron Range team’s future home base. This team’s goal is to be sustainable during economic downturns.”

Hanegmon used the example of people who work in summer-specific industries having a different job they do in the winter.

“The team is trying to do the same thing with Iron Range industry,” he said. “We want to develop new businesses that complement our area and keep people local.”

A community meeting to discuss the Iron Range Makerspace will be held Monday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at the Mesabi College Theater in Virginia. The features and design of the new maker space will be described at the meeting. In addition to metal, wood and textile works, there will be creative software and 3-D printing equipment. Plus, a community lounge and bottomless cups of coffee for members. Sufficed to say, this will be exceptionally cool for people of many varied interests.

The feedback from this meeting will also determine what kind of equipment would be most in demand, perhaps even informing whether the maker space is ultimately located in Hibbing or Virginia.

“[We need] somewhere to work out, though,” said Hanegmon. “I don’t mean work out our muscles; I mean work out our brains. A maker space will provide the means to work our brains and may eventually lead to the Iron Range’s major industries being more than just iron.”

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. What a great concept!

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