It’s Iron Range week for state media

Cooley, Minnesota was an Iron Range location town near present-day Nashwauk, depicted here in Alan Stone's railroad model.

Cooley, Minnesota was an Iron Range location town near present-day Nashwauk, depicted here in Alan Stone’s railroad model. The region went through enormous changes as the natural ore mining days gave way to the taconite age in the 1960s and ’70s. Now the region is again transitioning to a time of even fewer mining jobs.

Looks like I picked a good week to take a few days off from the blog. State media are giving us plenty of Iron Range reading material.

Today, of course, Minnesota Public Radio will hold its “Minnesota’s Iron Range: Ideas for the Future” forum at Hibbing Community College. The forum will take place from 6-8 p.m. in the HCC Theater. MPR reporter Dan Kraker and MPR Morning Show host Cathy Wurzer will host the event. Kraker told me that the event will be streamed online at the MPR News website. An edited version of the forum will air on MPR News from 11 a.m.-noon on Friday.

MPR has been previewing the event on its airwaves all week. Kraker delivered the mother of all “Iron Range Economic Diversification” stories earlier this week. His remarkable piece not only explains the challenges in the natural resources economy we’re all so familiar with, he actually talked to a dozen newer voices about hopes for a more sustainable economic future for the region. It’s well worth a read.

I wrote about the forum in my Sunday column. As I explain, I’m looking forward to this event’s focus on actionable ideas. I’ve been to far too many “regional future making” sessions that leave the work stuck to the walls of the convention center.

MPR is also giving voice to other more traditional views of the Iron Range economy.


Bill Hanna, editor of the Mesabi Daily News, appeared on Morning Edition with Cathy Wurzer on Monday. His interview was a succinct encapsulation of that publication’s mining-centric editorial position.

“It’s always going to be a minerals-based, timber-based economy,” said Hanna.

When a friend told me to go listen to the Hanna interview I thought I’d be steaming mad by the end, but I really wasn’t. Mostly, this seven minute interview is an accurate representation of the establishment mentality of today’s Mesabi Iron Range. I don’t think it reflects a ubiquitous viewpoint, just the one held by most (not all) legislators and most (not all) local elected officials and opinion-leaders.

It’s not just MPR exploring the economic woes of the Iron Range. Star Tribune columnist Lee Schafer continued his series analyzing the Iron Range mining economy with another interesting piece on Sunday.

Schafer’s column picked up on the data points I wrote about a couple weeks back from the recent Office of the Legislative Auditor audit of the IRRRB. (Incidentally, I just updated that post with some new data from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, who read the myriad comments below that piece).

Schafer used a term that you sometimes hear in mining debate: “the resource curse.” In other words, the very resources that bring economic activity to a remote place like the Iron Range become the cross we must bear, the instrument of preventing the region from adjusting to the decline of resource-extraction industry.

One of the first people I’ve read about to opine on that topic was a mining engineer who arrived in Northern Minnesota back in the 1930s. E.W. Davis remarked that the very ore beneath the ground of our towns would doom those towns to failure as it ran out. The region was simply too dependent on one industry.

For his part, Davis was one of the main developers of the taconite process that prolonged the mining industry on the Iron Range beyond a date with doom in the 1950s and ’60s. But that doesn’t mean he was wrong.

Whether you like the hopeful vibe laid down by MPR’s economic diversification focus, or the brutal realism of Schafer’s view in the Star Tribune, it’s hard to avoid speculation about the future of our region.

Of course, this spike in statewide attention paid to the Iron Range can’t last. You can rest assured that will still be here when the klieg lights go dark.

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