Thursday, November 29, 2007

Prosperity on the Range

The Range is trying to get ready for prosperity. It was really hard to write that sentence with conviction. Over the last 26 years, most of the economic news on the Iron Range has been about how people and communities have struggled to ride out the boom and bust times that have characterized the economy of the Range since World War II. Since the 1980s over ten thousand good paying jobs in the taconite industry have disappeared. Now, during a downturn in the U.S. economy, it appears the world steel markets have created a window of opportunity that may dramatically transform the Iron Range. For the first time since iron ore was discovered on the Range, the new Minnesota Steel facility near Nashwauk will produce steel here, rather than ship processed ore to the blast furnaces in Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Mesabi Nugget near Hoyt Lakes will produce an enriched steel pellet that opens up new markets for our ore. I still won't say this will happen for sure, but it seems closer than ever.

The challenge for Iron Range communities is to prepare for the influx of new workers. The new prosperity will create challenges that will strain our ability to recruit, house, and educate a whole new workforce. Thousands of people will move here for the jobs. Will we welcome the new arrivals? Or will their arrival cause social, cultural, or even racial tensions? Wayne Nelson has more on the story in the December edition of Business North.

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