Tuesday, March 13, 2012 By Aaron Brown
Let me break this down for you cityfolks, since you are supposedly the target market. We still mine here. Did you know that? That mining produces minerals you use and the revenue generated benefits both local communities and the state, through land grants and resource funds. You should thank miners. No, more than that. You should hug them.
You can read the official brochure here, which does not depict any hugging, nor provide proper instruction how.
I've got two problems. One, damn do I hate hugging. Especially stranger hugging. Pretty girl hugging is nice, but still awkward for me. And I'm married, so really I could dispense with the whole enterprise. And though I'm a fifth generation Ranger, with miners on both sides of my family tree, I've never ventured onto a mining property donning any more than the white helmet of a visitor, the same headgear they give the tourists and politicians. So if someone actually did drive up here to hug a Ranger to thank for their mining, after the awkward "pat pat" I'd have to fess up that I'm a regional writer and community college teacher. And who gives a crap about that, right?
That brings me to my second problem. If you were to drive to St. Louis County and hug someone at random, there is a very tiny chance that person would be a miner or work in a supporting industry. In Duluth, you'd really only have a chance at Gander Mountain or maybe the hospitals. Even if you drove up to the Iron Range you'd still have about a one in 25 chance of hugging a miner.
If you hugged a random person in the heart of the Mesabi you'd probably hug A) a service worker making minimum wage or near that, or B) a retiree on a fixed income wondering why property taxes keep rising on their $38,000 location house. They might be more likely to hug back than a miner, but only because those folks need hugs. A modern mining job puts you in the top 15-20 percent of income on today's Iron Range.
Naturally, all of the actual mine production discussed in this "Hug a Ranger" material comes from iron mining, where the taconite industry is indeed running strong. But this campaign wouldn't be a proper reflection of the three Iron Rangers on the St. Louis County Board if it weren't instead a breathless, fawning campaign ad for nonferrous mineral mining, the more controversial proposed mining northeast of the iron formation near Ely and the Boundary Waters. At one point in the brochure says this:
This is patently insane. 2013 is next year and these mines don't even have permits yet. Even optimistic estimates would push hiring and mining into 2014 or later, accounting for the inevitable litigation from Ojibwe tribes and environmental groups. And 7,000 jobs? Polymet, the most stable and established of the proposed mining companies, proposes 300-400 permanent hires and even that is optimistic. Yes, there would be construction jobs, but the notion that these projects would create an industry just as big as iron mining within a year or two is simply misleading. That won't happen even if nonferrous minerals are mined here. Further complicating the matter is the exact pay and benefits waiting for potential copper miners in the area. These might not be union jobs.
New, nonferrous projects in Minnesota have the potential to add more than $2.7 billion to the state’s economy and another 7,000 new jobs by 2013
Yes, jobs are good and I'm not dismissing the power of 400 potential jobs. But those jobs will beget only mining support and service jobs. They will not create a vibrant economy that self-generates enough jobs to navigate inevitable slides in the commodity prices that always send the Range economy through booms and busts. If they can be permitted, good! Welcome! But leaders in the area continue to put all chips on one spoke of the roulette wheel at the expense of economic diversification.
I've said several times that the Range will need a marketing campaign to sell itself as a destination for families, professionals and businesses. Some reforms are needed along the way, however, among them a reform in the attitude that produces bloated, parochial, self-congratulatory marketing campaigns to mask unfettered dependence on mining. Municipal reforms, school investments and curriculum reforms and a renewed focus on making our communities liveable dominate my wish list. If we did these things, maybe we could run a campaign like this:
Here on the Iron Range, things are moving. For more than 100 years an immigrant people have moved the earth to extract the ores that forged great cities, won both world wars and continue to build America.The problem with this message now is that it just isn't true. Not yet. If I ever seem frustrated about the state of things on the Iron Range it is because we could do this but aren't doing it.
Today we mine minerals, knowledge, innovation and the arts in one of the nation's safest, most affordable places. Our three world class technical high schools, arts magnet school and 20 award-winning elementary schools don't just compete with other small towns, their small class sizes and skilled teachers prepare students to compete in a global economy, with skills to succeed both academically and in technical career fields.
We offer two-year, four-year and advanced college degrees and low interest financing for new entrepreneurs and artists. Our mineral resources give us the lowest property taxes in the state. Our high speed internet system makes the world our marketplace. The unique culture of our native and immigrant population continues to grow with galleries, public art, freelance support programs, film and theater companies. A fifth of Minnesota's famed 10,000 lakes and most of its public recreation lands are just a short drive from our towns.
If you haven't seen today's Iron Range, you should. But don't expect to sit around. On the Iron Range, things are moving.
By all means, hug a Ranger. See if that works. When you're done, let's do the hard work to make a better future for the Iron Range.