The Iron Range conjures up images of hard-working blue-collar families, crowded hockey arenas, and strong political will. For generations, we’ve endured and overcome challenges: recessions, cultural and political differences, the ebbs of a global economy, and more. In many respects, we have been the underdog, yet we’ve managed to come out on top as people who love to live and work on the Iron Range.
Today, another battle ensues. Divisive state politics, declining population, and mining opposition present hurdles the next generation of Iron Rangers must overcome.
The political battle brewing could shift not only the livelihood of the next generation of Iron Rangers but those of Duluthians and all Minnesotans.
Average Minnesotans have little concept of what the mining industry has provided to the state. In addition to being the largest private contributing industry to wages and to the tax base in Northeastern Minnesota, mining annually contributes $40 million to $60 million to the public school trust. And it provides millions of dollars in financial resources and scholarships to the University of Minnesota as a land-grant institution. The minerals and metals underfoot are, quite literally, the foundation of our public school and university systems.
Mining accounts for 5.3% of the state’s GDP and a full 30% of the Duluth region’s GDP, according to a 2010 study by the Labovitz School of Business at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
The full-scale assault on mining in the name of selective environmentalism stems from metro-based politicians, funders, and activists seemingly hellbent on stopping an industry that has operated for more than 130 years in a region that still today boasts some of the cleanest water in the state. It makes one wonder: Who are the true environmentalists?
The metro-rural divide is real. Opposition to development doesn’t stop with the mining sector; the futures of industries like power generation, agriculture, and forest products all are under attack from these same metro do-gooders.
This divide between rural-Minnesota and metro-Minnesota communities is not only troubling; the trickle-down effect of the divisiveness could be catastrophic to Duluth’s economy. An esteemed Duluth businessman once said, “When the Iron Range gets a cold, Duluth gets pneumonia.” No question, the consequences of the political and policy divide will continue to wreak havoc on the predictability and flow of commerce for our region.
While we’re a tough breed and have weathered plenty of storms, regardless of party or political affiliation, alarm bells should be ringing. We’re about to be subverted. It’s time to wake up and stand up to the elitism being subjected upon us by the Twin Cities. It’s time to elect more people from this region with pride and courage.
Young and old Iron Rangers should be proud of what we contribute to Minnesota’s economy, our heritage, and our record of environmental stewardship. We must not stand down to this overt threat to our existence and livelihood — for our generation and for those to come.
Enough is enough!
Brian Maki of Duluth is an Iron Range native; chairman, president, and CEO of Lakehead Constructors of Superior and Aurora; a board member for the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota; and past chairman of the Association of General Contractors of Minnesota.
Note: This column was updated at 7:10 p.m. on March 12 to better characterize mining's economic impact on Northeastern Minnesota.