On the Iron Range, prolonged downturn is taking its toll – by Jennifer Brooks (Minneapolis Star Tribune – May 2, 2016)


AURORA, MINN. – When the mines go down on the Iron Range, everything else seems to follow. “Everything’s just closing down,” said Debra Schermann, standing on Main Street Aurora on a chilly spring Tuesday, staring across at the shuttered storefront where she once ran a pet grooming business.

The only grocery store in this east Range town of 1,600 went out of business in January. Aurora’s only drugstore shut its doors last summer, a few months after the nearby Mesabi Nugget iron plant idled, throwing 200 people out of work for at least two years.

It has been more than a year since the first layoff notices went out across the Range. The loss of those jobs, and the thousands that followed, cut across the region like a riptide. Two thousand layoffs in the mines triggered 1,350 layoffs among the contractors and mining support industries downstream.

When seven of the 11 mining operations on the Range went dark, local governments lost their tax base, shops and restaurants lost their customers, and the entire region was left to struggle through the worst economy it has seen since the steel downturn of the 1980s.

In the interlinked economy of the Iron Range, when one community gets cut, everyone bleeds.

A plant shuts down in Forbes and a father of four in Hibbing finds himself back in a classroom for the first time in years, training for a career that could take him far from the mines. Or the Mesabi Nugget plant idles in Hoyt Lakes, suddenly leaving dozens of families in Aurora to struggle to put food on the table.

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