Sunday, February 13, 2011 By Aaron Brown
By Aaron J. Brown
The winter presses on, a dry, cold march through snow to the oil tank to see if we’ll make it another couple months without ordering fuel from town. Looks OK, but that’s assuming. Nothing new to this equation on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, not in our adaptation to weather or to the economy which endures in permanent February.
Iron Range taconite production recovered in 2010, ending shy of its peak numbers from 2008 just after the recession started. The taconite plants on the Range, ore dump salvaging Magnetation and the value-added producer Mesabi Nugget are expected to produce as much as 39 million tons in 2011, according to reports last month.
Keewatin Taconite is getting green lights during the middle stages of its permitting process on opening a new production line, which would add 3.6 million tons of capacity. Essar Steel is still claiming principle production will begin on its new taconite mine on the west Range, the precursor to the long-awaited steel plant. Magnetation is aiming to expand its ore extraction from the west Range dumps of Itasca County.
In short, 2011 is hunky dory on the Iron Range, except of course that we'll shed public sector jobs and our schools are entering something close to a fiscal crisis. This will create something of a middling, treading water feel that will keep real growth from happening until the taconite industry stumbles again.
It is imperative that every level of government, the private sector and, particularly, people on the street consider these next five years of utmost importance for the diversification and expansion of the Iron Range's economic base. No, not the end of mining, the start of something else. The economic conditions in big cities or suburbs aren't that great either. Why not live and create in a place with heart, history and interesting weather?
There are those who say that the Iron Range doesn't want to change, doesn't want to invite new people here or accept new ideas. I invite those of that belief to defend your reasoning. The slow death of a region is nothing pretty to watch. I do not intend to participate in such an endeavor.
Any approach that fails to welcome many new people doing many different kinds of jobs is a doomed policy. The Iron Range obituary was written long ago. It is only through the guile of our people, the occasional effectiveness of our leaders, and dumb luck that this obituary has not yet been printed. If we don’t live every moment trying to prove it wrong, to rewrite its saddest passages, we don’t really live.
To miss this opportunity would dishonor the true value of this place and its people, who in the midst of chasing the obvious – iron ore – found the sacred: the upward social mobility afforded new generations by great education, hard work and cooperation among the many for the cause of all.
A heartfelt welcome to a good year for iron mining. Welcome to the possibility of related new industry on the Range. Welcome to the loggers and welcome to the tourists.
Welcome also to inventors and thinkers, theologians and architects, writers and poets, artists and software designers. Welcome to a future that is not simple or obvious.
And to all those who defy this welcome, who lock the doors and peer out the windows, a warning. The future does not care about your reasons. The future did not mind the deepness of the ore reserve or the hardness of taconite. The future did not care that our recent ancestors spoke foreign tongues, holding no land or title. The future happened regardless and here we stand. Welcome. Welcome.
Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer and community college instructor. Read more at MinnesotaBrown.com or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”