The Memo: Iron ore shipping still down

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Ore shipments still lagging

Even though all but one Iron Range mine had restarted by late summer (and the last, U.S. Steel's Keetac, will reopen next month), monthly shipments of iron ore pellets on the Great Lakes is still well behind 2019 figures.

Iron ore shipments totaled 4.2 million tons in October, a decrease of 22.1% compared to a year ago, according to the Lake Carriers' Association. Shipments are also below the month’s five-year average by 19.9%.

Year-to-date, the iron ore trade is at 32.3 million tons, down 26.3% compared to the same point in 2019. Through October, iron ore shipments are 23.7% behind the five-year average for the January-October.

While the pandemic-induced mine shutdowns this spring and summer will make it impossible to catch up on yearly figures, I'm curious when monthly numbers will catch back up. There's a rush to get pellets to blast furnaces before the Soo Locks close in January — U.S. Steel said that was one of the reasons it was restarting Keetac next month — so it could be soon.

Communities of color facing higher rates of unemployment due to COVID-19

Even as Minnesota's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.6% in October (a figure that is almost guaranteed to rise in November and December as a new wave of restrictions closed in-person dining, bars, gyms and other facilities), communities of color in the state "continue to be more deeply affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19," according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.


In a news release last week, DEED said the average unemployment rate for Black Minnesotans from May to October was 15.4%, up from 5.3% during the same period last year. It fell 1.1% from September to October.

The unemployment rate among Latinx Minnesotans is at 9.6%, up from 2.6% last year, DEED said.

DECC revenue down 53%

The pandemic has hit the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center hard.

We've reported on the canceled events, 387 permanent layoffs and 26 furloughs. But in a news release last week, the DECC said the first 8 months of the pandemic saw a 53% drop in 2020 revenues, or $6.3 million.

The next few weeks would have brought a number of events with socially-distant crowds, but after the latest round of restrictions, most have been cancelled and hockey and orchestra will play without spectators. COVID-19 testing will continue, however.

“I get asked a lot, ‘How is the DECC doing?’” Interim Executive Director Roger Reinert said in a news release last week. “The truth is — we’re holding our own. But just barely, and it's not easy.”

Meanwhile, a working group last week recommended the DECC and Visit Duluth, which is also struggling and was forced to layoff much of its staff, merge.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy and mining for the Duluth News Tribune. Contact him at 218-723-5332 or

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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