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Iron Range businesses have trouble recruiting workers from outside the area. A new website aims to change that

HelloIronRange.com showcases things to do on Iron Range, answers prospective job recruits' questions.

Downtown Virginia FILE.jpg
Downtown Virginia. (2009 file / News Tribune)
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Kelly Hertling knows how hard it is to lure new employees to the Iron Range.

As human resources supervisor for L&M Radiator, Inc., a radiator manufacturer in Hibbing, she sees skilled laborers gravitate toward the area’s union jobs while potential salespeople and engineers recruited from elsewhere worry there’s nothing to do in the area.

“We struggle to recruit people from outside the area to come to the Iron Range,” Hertling said. “When you’re interviewing and such, you’re not just selling your company to a potential applicant or potential employee, you’re selling the region, the area.”

That’s where HelloIronRange.com comes in, said Beth Pierce, executive director of the Iron Range Tourism Bureau.

The recently launched website, run by the tourism bureau and funded by a broadband grant from the Blandin Foundation, aims to be a place prospective hires from outside the Iron Range can learn about housing, events, recreation and local businesses.

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For example, Pierce said some people wonder if the Iron Range has stores like Target, Lowe’s and Starbucks (it has all three).

“That’s something I never would have thought of, but I guess when you’re talking about going from a large city to a rural part of the state, that could be important,” Pierce said.

Right now, the website has a map of day care facilities, hospitals, schools and shopping; frequently asked questions; area statistics and data; video of recreation; and stories of people who have moved to the Iron Range. Future additions could connect potential hires with real estate agents, among other ideas.

It’s all about showing “who we are and what we have to offer,” Pierce said.

But recruiting workers to the Iron Range is a fight against workforce trends decades in the making.

The regional population is shrinking. The combined population of Itasca, Lake and St. Louis (minus Duluth) counties has gone down 1,000 people, or a 0.7% decrease, since 2010, even as Minnesota's population grew by 6.3% during the same time period, said Carson Gorecki, northeast regional analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Additionally, the region’s median age is in the high 40s, well above Minnesota’s median age of 39, Gorecki said.

“The region is one of the oldest in the state and continues to age and the population growth is either stagnant or slight decline,” Gorecki said. “So it’s not even growth.”

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A number of the region’s industries have more than a one-fifth of their workforce between ages 55 and 64: finance and insurance, wholesale trade, public administration, manufacturing, educational services, transportation and warehousing, and mining and utilities.

“You think about the next 10 years, potentially a fifth of each of those industries could be looking for new workers to fill positions,” Gorecki said.

Will there be enough people to replace those retirees?

Hertling worries current workforce shortages will only worsen, especially if young people leave and don’t come back.

“Our region will die if we don’t figure out how to get our youth to stick and stay here, and those that were raised and born here to come back to keep our place vibrant,” Hertling said. “I’m a little scared, a little worried, about what that means for our future workforce.”

But, Hertling said, the website could help fight that trend by drawing new talent to the area.

"We don't want to take our neighbors' employees, even though we need employees. We're all in it together, and I think that's kind what the idea of Hello Iron Range is all about. We're friendly and family oriented and hopefully we'll attract employees that have that same value and integrity that we do," Hertling said.

"It's hard. Recruiting is very hard."

Related Topics: IRON RANGEMINNESOTATOURISM
Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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