N. Minn., Canada share deep economic ties

A Canadian National train carrying iron ore pellets. (PHOTO: Jerry Huddleston, Flickr CC)

A Canadian National train carries iron ore pellets. (PHOTO: Jerry Huddleston, Flickr CC)

The other day I got a note from a longtime reader saying something I wrote “sounded positively Canadian.” And while I’m a proud citizen of the U. S. of A., it’s true that my beloved homeland here in Northern Minnesota is very near (and rather influenced by) Canada.

A Northern Minnesota accent sounds more like a Canadian accent than any other American dialect. (With some wiggle room, of course, to account the unique Iron Range dialect along the small towns of the Mesabi). Our landscape and livelihoods in Northern Minnesota seem indistinguishable from those of our Ontario counterparts. The fact that I’m not Canadian stems more from the arbitrary drawing of the U.S.-Canadian border than from any cultural divide.

Essentially, Northern Minnesota and Canada share deep ties, in ways that go beyond “eh” and “aboot.”

That jibes with a new report from the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Labovitz School of Business. Entitled “The Economic Impact of the Canada/Northeastern Minnesota Relationship on the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota,” the report was chartered by the Office of the Canadian Consulate General, which has an office in Minneapolis.

Among the findings:

  • In 2014, exports to Canada contributed more than $486 million in new spending to the Arrowhead region. This increased gross regional product (GRP, value added) by $241 million and added more than $95 million of employee wages and benefits through direct, indirect, and induced effects.
  • In 2016, Canada was directly invested in 20 businesses, employing 3,273 workers.
  • Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) contributed over 6,700 jobs through direct, indirect, and induced effects
  • As of 2015, one third of Northern Minnesota’s iron ore is shipped to Canada.
  • Iron ore is the single biggest export from the Arrowhead region to Canada.

Canada’s Governor General David Johnston spoke about the special relationship between Minnesota and Canada when I interviewed him last year. I also wrote a column about that conversation.


  1. I expect the basic picture is correct. But that Labovitz School of Business would write a report saying the moon is made of green cheese if it was paid to do so.

    • Well said, Alan. A friend of mine once worked on a report on the economic impact of rebuilding the local food system in the western the western lake Superior region. The first attempt was by the Leibowitz school, and my friend had to throw it out completely and restart from scratch, because Leibowitz made all sorts of ridiculous assumptions about farm productivity that simply wouldn’t work in northeastern Minnesota or Western Minnesota. Among other things, the Leibowitz report predicted our local food system was going to be based on corn and soybean row crops and mass production of turkeys.

      Why? Because they lazily took the Minnesota-wide agriculture economic numbers and applied them to northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, without taking into account the regional differences in climate, soils, and topography. While a guy can grow some varieties of field corn up here – and people do – it’s not exactly economically competitive due to our shorter growing season and less productive soils compared to southern Minnesota. That’s why more people don’t do it.

      Leibowitz took none of that into account. Nor did they even try to use regional USDA data sets. Their economic impact models are not based on reality. As far as I’m concerned, they are mostly bought and paid for lazy hacks.

      • Correction: in paragraph 1, I meant northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, not western Minnesota. Turkeys and row crops do fine in western Minnesota, although they haven’t been good to water quality in the Minnesota River.

  2. I agree that when you are in Western Ontario, it feels very much like you are in Northeastern Minnesota. The money is a little more colorful, bathrooms are known as washrooms, and road distances measured in kilometers, but pretty much everything else feels the same.

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