Cliffs to close Empire, move production to Eveleth

Taconite pellets

Taconite pellets

Odds of United Taconite in Eveleth reopening this spring took a big jump today after Cliffs Natural Resources announced it would be closing its Empire Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

From UpperMichigan Source:

The Empire Mine will permanently close this year. That could mean over 500 employees losing their jobs.

Cliffs Natural Resources CEO Lourenco Goncalves told the Duluth News Tribune, operations at Empire will end, “In a matter of months, not years,” and Empire’s production will move to the Minnesota Iron Range.

That means Eveleth pellets would supply an ArcelorMittal mill in Indiana. ArcelorMittal has been a relatively stable player in the steel industry during this very trying time in the global commodities market. ArcelorMittal’s Minorca Mine in Virginia is the only one that hasn’t faced any temporary idling or slowdowns since the price of iron ore collapsed early last year.

This explains the seemingly irrational optimism about reopening the Range mines that Goncalves showed in yesterday’s earnings report. It is good news — made possible by bad news.

Long term, Cliffs still faces significant debt and woeful conditions in the open market. But short term, Iron Range miners at United and Northshore are indeed probably going back to work at some point this year.

Still no word on U.S. Steel’s Keewatin Taconite. I hear a lot of pessimism from laid off workers at that plant. U.S. Steel has been mum on its plans there.

The closure of Empire marks the continued decline of the mining economy in Northern Michigan, where mining towns cropped up two or three decades before they did here in Northern Minnesota. By mid-20th Century, the Minnesota ranges had all but consumed the market share for iron. The growth of the Taconite Era gave new life to Michigan’s mining industry just as it didd here. The Tilden Mine will continue to operate there, but the Michigan’s mining industry is truly a ghost of its former self.

Rather than cause for celebration, Michigan’s woes are a cautionary tale for what will eventually happen here without a diversified economy.


  1. So, about all that shit you were talking of United taconite? Apparently you don’t know as much as you think you know eh?

    • Dude. A mine closed permanently. 500 people out of work. I didn’t predict that. I’ve never claimed to know exactly what these companies will do. I only know that the industry is consolidating, and will continue to do so. What this means is that UTac will come back for a while. I wouldn’t take a long bet on that, however.

      • Empire has known for some time their mine is running near the end of their life. Just running out of ground. Not like it was totally unexpected for them. Ya 500 will be out, but no one seems to care about all the jobs here either. Maybe you should go preach to them to diversify now

  2. Interesting attitude. Economic diversification bad. Suggesting alternatives bad. Keeping things same good. Get off the island of the lost brains, and you might find places where the average age is under 50, the downtowns don’t consist of boarded up buildings and that group rarely seen on the range, children, exists.

    • Typical liberal tactic you’re using Paul…You’re trying to ”rephrase the debate” as follows:

      Camp one – Pro-mining, Anti-diversify. It’s the straw man you set up, and hate. The problem you’re got is no one’s in this camp.

      Camp two – Anti-mining, Diversify. This is the camp Aaron has set up with a handful of anti-mining zealots like you ‘cause you guys hate mining. The problem you’re got here is it’s stupid. Mining is here and it’s the life blood of the Range…BUT equally important is you haven’t brought any diversifying ideas to reality…jobs and paychecks. It’s all liberal pie in the sky stuff.

      You and Aaron would like the above to be the debate but it’s not.

      The real world debate is:

      Camp one – Pro-mining, Pro-diversity. This is the real camp of the vast majority of Rangers, do both. But you hate it ‘cause it’s pro-mining.

      Camp two – Anti-mining, Diversity. This is the camp you and Aaron love, again along with a few zealots but it rings hollow because as stated, no one is taking home “diversify” paychecks equal to mining paychecks.

      • Bob – another logical fallacy. This is not either-or. Swapping one either-or proposition for another does not resolve the fallacy.

        Listen, I know you and others would love to paint me as some radical anti-mining guy. All I’m saying is that I’ve done a great deal of reading on commodities-based regions and they all turn out the same way. Mining is an honorable profession that generates economic activity. But mining companies do not independently generate economic diversity. Die-hard pro-mining people I know well would be the first to agree.

        So divvy up the bullshit any way you please. We are in a tough spot here. The situation is dire by any reading of international business news. I fail to see why some people who have the best paying jobs in the region are so hostile to the very concept of other jobs being sought for the 90 percent of Iron Rangers who aren’t miners. It’s foolish at best, selfish and petty at worst.

        • You’re arguing the “straw man” again Aaron. No one is against or “hostile” if someone want’s to set up a business unrelated to mining. You’re the perfect example…do you know of one miner who is hostile towards you for establishing the diversified “Great Northern Radio Show”? I don’t..

          There’s no hostility from miners towards people setting up diversified businesses. All the hostility from those against mining.

        • ” This is not either-or”

          Spot on. Every opportunity to pursue the exploitation of natural resources like timber or minerals should be aggressively pursued. Every opportunity to diversify the economic base should be pursued. Neither should be curtailed (which means nobody should be arguing to curtail mining in order to promote Twin Cities tourism). Both are badly needed.

        • Aaron, you’ve done a great deal of reading on commodity based regions? lMAO!!

          Because reading someone else’s bs they published, like the bs you like to feed, really matters??

          Once again, people are talking diversity. OK.

          Give some answers and solutions then, diversify with WHAT!? Everyone posting has all this mumbo jumbo lingo gringo speak, trying to “sound smart”, but are like a politician, they talk, but give no answers

          • I don’t see why you’re so angry about trying to understand A) why workers in our region’s major industry live in constant threat of layoffs, or B) what we can do to balance the economy to withstand layoffs in mining. I do write about potential solutions. I could flood you with links, but I won’t. You may use my search function if you like. I’ve never claimed to have all the answers. If you don’t like what I say, come up with your own conception of the future. We’ll see how it all turns out just the same, won’t we.

      • Now with that being said, here’s a suggestion for you Paul.

        One, accept the fact that mining has been and will be here for some time. Don’t hate. Get help if needed. your hate energy into actually creating some diversifying jobs and paychecks. The Range will heap praises on you when and if you do. I promise, the pro-miners won’t hate you for doing so.

        Or three…if you can’t find it within yourself to do those two things…move to a place that has a diversified economy like you’re dreaming you’d like the Range to be.

  3. Remember when there was talk about a carpet factory? Where is it. Who will put up money for diversification? We are dependent, on flux pellets at the present time. My dad warned me when I graduated High School not to go to the range in1967. Well, here i am!

  4. NotScaredOfChange says

    The only large businesses the range will ever have are mines and companies that depend on the mine for income. With the way MN taxes companies why would any sort of large employer operate here when they can put there businesses in another state or area who actually wants them and proves it by creating a favorable environment for them to work in. So when the mining comes to its end and it will sooner rather than later this area will die and it will die fast. Which is why every laid of miner like myself that had the opportunity to go back to school under the TAA should have, not to mention it would extend your unemployment benefits for up to 2 years. But instead we focus on campaigning for extended unemployment when every person who was laid off already has the option for it. I realize the thought of leaving this area is scary and you will probably have a home you will be unable to sell when the time comes, but don’t kid yourselves we live a dying area if we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for when the time comes everyone should take it.

  5. For God sake don’t “flood us with links”, no one clicks on those. All we’re asking for is cut the bs and give us the top 2 or 3 real employment solutions you have and how many jobs they’ve created. That’s all we’re asking for…just 2 or 3 out of the “flood”. Why would you keep ’em hidden, speak up!

    • Bob, you know that’s a little disingenuous of you. You read most of what I write here and we’ve had this conversation a dozen times before. I don’t know how you structure your days, Bob, but if I spent as much time here repeating the same arguments over and over and over again in the comments the way you do, I wouldn’t have enough time to write new things for you to bitch about. What a tragedy that would be!

      I have advocated for a long term strategy for economic diversification that relies on making communities more attractive to people. Over time, e-workers and entrepreneurs are attracted to communities that look good and keep active. They’re attracted to a responsive education system and the necessary technical infrastructure for 21st century commerce. It’s not the same as dropping a big widget factory on Highway 169. I don’t have the power to do that, nor do I have the power to bring the price of iron ore back to $85 or higher.

      But I’ve said this before, you know.

      • Got it Aaron. Filtering out the b.s….
        The number 1 (and number 2) diverse business is…..a worker?! More specifically, an e-worker.

        That’s not a business though, that’s ahh…a worker. What is he/she going to do?

  6. John Ramos says

    E-workers, even if they’re not entrepreneurs, can bring in money from elsewhere by doing e-work. The types of such work that I’m aware of in my own field involve editing, technical writing, advertising, and proofreading; I’m sure there are e-work opportunities in other fields as well. Such jobs may not be as lucrative as mining jobs, but they’re something, and R47 keeps asking for something, over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. So there’s something.

    My personal preference, however, would be for the Range to save itself by making viral YouTube videos.

    • Good specific idea John…we need more of these vs. generalizations. If you know of a Ranger looking for work as you describe I’d suggest as a place to start. Share with us how it works out for them. We need to broadcast these success stories.

      p.s. I can think of numerous events I’ve been a part of on the Range that might have gone viral…if only they’d been recorded…

  7. John Ramos says

    So you were fully aware of what e-workers do. You knew that existed. And yet in your response to Aaron you said:

    “Got it Aaron. Filtering out the b.s….
    The number 1 (and number 2) diverse business is…..a worker?! More specifically, an e-worker.
    That’s not a business though, that’s ahh…a worker. What is he/she going to do?”

    I didn’t make any great suggestion. I was just telling you what e-workers do, since you asked. But you already knew. Responding to you is a waste of time. You’re not honest with your questions.

  8. e-workers are nothing new John, they’ve been around for what, 20 years or so? What we’re talking about are Range workers and what non-mining jobs Aaron foresees for Range workers. He said e-workers are his top priority. Nothing dishonest whatsoever me trying to find out what he’s thinking..

    So – what’s being done to bring this idea to fruition…for Rangers? I simply suggested one company where a trained Range e-worker could start looking for work. The are lots of I said it’s nothing new to the world..

  9. John Ramos says

    Oh, shut up.

  10. John…You piqued my interest regarding e-work. Here’s a fairly recent list of the top ten e-worker opportunities. Why selfishly suggest shutting up about this, help spread the word! By the way, your suggestion made the top ten…nice.

    3 of Aaron’s professions did also. He’s setting a great example..

    1. Virtual assistant
    2. Medical transcriptionist
    3. Translator
    4. Web developer/designer
    5. Call center representative
    6. Tech support specialist
    7. Travel agent
    8. Teacher
    9. Writer/editor
    10. Blogger

  11. Bryce from the range says

    At least….if all American companies used American Steel only….we would always have a Iron industry here…..Try using American steel in Australia, Brazil, or Russia, they protect their own!You can’t . ….import raw steel or iron ore…It’s a national defense issue in those countries..

  12. If we had some common sense politicians representing northern MN they would understand that importing steel is a national defense issue for the US as well…Frankin, Klobuchar, and Nolan are only worried about a short term solution..extend unemployment, how about fighting for the Illegal dumping of foreign steel? Would it be too much to ask a politician to do two things at once? I’ve always voted DFL,but I think republicans actually are working towards long term solutions. Dennis Mcdonough coming to the Range seemed to have absolutely no impact with obama..he’said more concerned about the TPP so he would have the fast track authority on Trade that will even further impact our economy in a hugely negative way. Trump 2016!

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