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After the Mines: Can the IRRRB Help the Iron Range Prepare for the End of Mining?
By Bob Kelleher and Amy Radil
December 6, 1999

THE IRON RANGE RESOURCES AND REHABILITATION BOARD was formed as a state department nearly 60 years ago, to help prepare Minnesota for the decline of its iron-mining industry, and to revitalize the state's forested and mining regions.

Media reports savaged the IRRRB's business and tourism investments in the 1980s. Infighting among board members and the agency's commissioner led one political leader to declare the IRRRB "dysfunctional." Now, the IRRRB enters a new era, with a revamped board of advisors and a new commissioner appointed by Reform Party Governor Jesse Ventura.

The History of the IRRRB

Beyond Mining

The Future


Part One: The History
Once a wild paradise of clear lakes and pine forest, mining and logging transformed the Iron Range into a dingy desert of huge open pit holes and scraggly second growth woods and stumps. After just 50 years of intensive mining, Minnesota's reserves of high-grade iron ore, once thought inexhaustible, were nearly spent. Meanwhile, the Great Depression had idled America's industries and forced Minnesota's iron miners into work camps and soup lines. Demand for steel was absolutely flat. A workforce of 12,000 miners in the 1920s shrank to less than 2,000 in the 1930s.

Part Two: The Troubles
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board is either Minnesota's least-effective state agency, or its least understood. The agency takes credit for thousands of new jobs in northeastern Minnesota through investments in communities and businesses. But the IRRRB suffers from a tarnished reputation, based largely on a some high profile bad investments in the 1980s and recurring criticism from the media and politicians.

Part Three: The Future
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board evolved into its present form 20 years ago to insure life after taconite in northeast Minnesota, a purpose many "rangers" say they support. But in recent years the agency's reputation has been linked more to political turmoil and failed investments. Local business owners say the IRRRB has rarely sought their advice or responded to their needs. They're holding out hope for change, though, thanks to new people onboard and a potential resurgence in the industry that started it all: mining.

  Related Links:
  Blandin Foundation
Center for Economic Development
Bureau of Business and Economic Research
Giants Ridge Ski Area
Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Boad
Iron Range Economic Alliance
NRRI Business Group
Itasca Development Corporation
City of Silver Bay City Hall
Ely Area Development Association
Minnesota Power
Minnesota Technology, Inc.

About the Reporters

Bob Kelleher began with Minnesota Public Radio as a part-time reporter in 1990 while completing work on a business degree. Kelleher became a fulltime reporter and was appointed bureau chief in 1993. Before his tenure with MPR, Kelleher abandoned a radio disc-jockey career to assume management of a small-market radio-news operation in Boone, Iowa. He also reported news for a commercial station in Duluth.

Amy Radil joined MPR as a reporter in the Duluth bureau in 1997, where she covers everything from moose calling to charter schools. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. For two years Radil worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C. covering medical issues for FDC Reports. She received her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and pursued her true vocation, radio.