2011: Continued Diversification Of Range Economy

By KBJR News 1

January 21, 2011 Updated Jan 21, 2011 at 10:44 AM CDT

However, with its boom and bust cycles, many say a diversified Range economy is critical to long–term economic health.

Businesses that prosper by providing support to the mining industry are breathing a sigh of relief with the taconite turn around.

"Tire manufacturers, retail trade, grocery stores...a lot of different industries rely on our base industry of taconite," said UMD Economist Jim Skurla.

Economist James Skurla says despite the current boom the taconite industry is not stable enough to build a region's entire economy around.

"You're not riding that cycle of when things go down in the taconite industry; it brings everything down a little bit," said Skurla.

The Iron Range Resources Agency was created to support diversification. New Commissioner Tony Sertich says that focus will be front and center in the upcoming year.

"We're going to be asking our businesses; be very active in our communities: what do you need to grow in Northeastern Minnesota and how can we help," said Sertich.

Minnesota Twist Drill is an example of successful economic diversification.

"I'm hoping to see some other small industries feel confident enough to start growing their industries a little bit," said Skurla.

Magnetation is another example of diversification and Iron Range entrepreneurship.

A recent partnership with global giant Cargill shows how a small business with a good idea can get international attention.

"Financial involvement from Cargill in our plant one, solely. And also a joint development agreement to being to identify and try to establish joint venture Magnetation plants worldwide," said Matt Lehtinen with Magnetation.

Essar Steel, in Nashwauk, showed that same spirit, going beyond mining taconite to become the first full–fledged steel mill on the Range. When the mill opens in 2012 it's expected to provide more than 450 high paying jobs.

"Our young population has left the area because there were no jobs in the mining industry, and now just the fact that Essay is coming about...I know the colleges have been extremely busy training kids to come and take those jobs," said Nashwauk business owner Carole Girard.

While mining will always be the backbone of the range economy, experts say a more diversified economy is key to survival.

"We just look for businesses that make good business sense for the Iron Range," said Sertich.