Boomtime on the Iron Range

The 1970s are coming back to the Iron Range. New mining and energy projects are about to create thousands of new jobs in a short period of time, just as when the paper industry expanded several decades ago. The challenges of meeting the needs of an exploding workforce are underscored by the fact the warnings in Bob Kelleher’s story a year and a half ago are still being repeated.

The flood of construction, permanent and spin-off workers would alter economics, education, health, housing, civics, crime, transportation and ethnic diversity within a region that has a 100-year history of being a melting pot of people, the Duluth News Tribune reported today.

The story mirrors one in three weeks ago in which Roy Smith, who’s trying to coordinate workforce development programs, indicated a major challenge will still be trying to convince young people to stay on the Iron Range.

“We know 75,000 boomers are hitting retirement in the next 10 years, and we’re looking at several thousand new openings (with these projects),” Smith said. “All the high schools along U.S. 169 from Grand Rapids to Ely will produce just 8,000 graduates by 2010. The old saw that you have to leave the Iron Range to succeed doesn’t apply anymore.”

There’s already been some impact. Some housing specialists in the state report landlords are ending participation in Section 8 housing programs for low-income residents at an increasing rate, in order to free up apartments for construction workers.

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