Without lingering on its apparent propagandist intent (the phrase “sulfide ore copper mine” doesn’t have historical, technical, or legal meaning, for example) or the irony of a World Bank economist opining on grassroots economic development, Kris Hallberg’s Oct. 20 “Local View” column in the News Tribune (“Arrowhead better served without mineral leases”) requires a few comments
It correctly pointed out that life in Northeastern Minnesota has amenities far beyond laboring in resource industries. Hallberg wrote that she has lived this reality since 2005. My family has since 1883, and there are hundreds of thousands of our neighbors who can claim connections to this region far longer or more recent but no less sincere or valid. All of us want — or claim to want — to see these connections maintained and strengthened in our children, grandchildren, and following generations.
Which brings us to the watchword of our age: sustainability. Hallberg seems to envision a sustainable future populated by people like her, a telecommuting professional, or retirees, and an economy powered largely by transfer payments. This future would require a steady and sustained influx of newcomers, which is not a problem per se, but one which does implicitly demand the promotion of values and amenities attractive to visitors, often at the expense of those of the community.
In contrast, my personal vision for a sustainable future is one in which grandchildren have the opportunity to live in the same communities as their grandparents. This requires, among other things, the development of local industries utilizing local resources that offer continuous career pathways, from entry level through leadership.
Unfortunately, I’m guessing “telecommuting professional” and “wealthy retiree” are not boxes to check on career preference forms handed out to graduating seniors at Ely High School. In the amenity-based economy Hallberg seems to envision, should these same graduates elect to maintain their connections to family and community, they are disproportionately likely to end up laboring in low-wage, seasonal service jobs with diminished opportunities to start their own businesses or provide for their own families.
What Hallberg’s op-ed failed to acknowledge was the continuing role that the resource economy plays in maintaining the region’s amenities. The reason health care, education, and government are top employers in Ely and elsewhere in the region is in part the legacy and in part the continued contribution of the resource economy. (Taconite production tax distribution anyone?)
Even before a mine has opened, Twin Metals’ employees and contractors are important members of our communities. They camp, swim, fish, canoe, ski, and snowshoe in and outside the wilderness. Their children attend our schools, play volleyball and hockey, study music, act in the school plays, and pursue higher education in the region and beyond. They pay income, property, and sales taxes. They shop at our local retailers, eat at our restaurants, use our clinics and hospitals, attend our churches and synagogues, and volunteer in our communities.
In these regards, they are no different from prior generations of resource-industry workers and no different from the thousands of others working today in the same industries. They are, in fact, precisely the kind of neighbors Hallberg claims to desire.
There are real environmental, social, and economic issues to be evaluated and addressed as Twin Metals develops and potentially implements its mine plan of operations. However, dismissing the resource and amenity-based economies as incompatible is a simplistic strawman argument; it ignores history and the present reality and provides no real guidance on how to develop a sustainable future for our families and communities.
For my part, I hope that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are in their turn able to thoughtfully deliberate the role the resource economy plays in sustaining our beloved Arrowhead.
Phil Larson of Duluth is minerals industry professional.