Experts say Iron Range is in economic recovery

FOX 21 News
September 23, 2009

HIBBING – For the past year the Iron Range has suffered from idled mines and worker layoffs.

But a string of good news has many asking, is the worst over?

"Well, I'm trying to find a job," said Clinton Newman of Hibbing.

For people like Newman, looking for work in the city with the highest unemployment rate in the state is an uphill battle.

"This is as bad as it's been since WWII," said Jim Skurla, of the Labovitz School of Business and Economics.

Since about December of 2008 unemployment rates on the Iron Range maintained frightening, double digits.

The most recent numbers from the state place Hibbing at 16.1 percent unemployment, Virginia at 14.5 percent, and Grand Rapids at 10.9 percent.

But the upward climb has stopped – in fact, it's beginning to decline.

"I think the Iron Range is either close or near the bottom of the economic cycle," said Skurla.

Thanks to recent call backs at Iron Range mines, Skurla  says the Range is beginning to recover.

"We should see a slow growth," said Skurla. "This was a deep recession and people got a long way to go to recover."

The only mine currently shutdown is Hibbing Taconite, which will remain idle through at least next March.

Northshore Mining Co. is running two of four lines with all of its employees and United Taconite is on schedule to have workers at all facilities back to 40-hour-weeks by November.

Keetac workers should be recalled soon and Minntac has nearly all of its employees on the job, running four out of five lines.

Another source of good news for the Iron Range is ArcelorMittal's Minorca Mine in Virginia.

It's been idled since April but sources say the company plans to start up production in early October.

Plus, there are three major, new projects on the Range.

Mesabi Nugget is due to produce iron nuggets in the fourth quarter of this year and PolyMet is in the environmental impact and permitting process.

Essar Steel near Nashwauk is also moving forward.

And all that positive news is having an impact on more than unemployment statistics.

"Kinda makes me feel like I have a better chance," said Newman.

At the Minnesota Workforce Center in Hibbing, Charlotte Hanegmon is seeing a sense of optimism.

"I think attitudes have been buoyed by that improvement," said Hanegmon.

Hanegmon says, Hibbing's drop from 18 percent unemployment in June to 16 percent in August is better, but its no where near healthy.

"There are statistical projections that the spring of 2010 looks good… but I think its gonna be a rough winter," said Hanegmon.

If the Iron Range can weather a few more tough months, experts are optimistic that things will get better sooner rather than later.

Jim Skurla of the Labovitz School said the recovery could be, "jobless" as employers are waiting for sales security before hiring new employees.