Local View: Iron Range jobs and state, county revenues are at risk today

From the column: “There have been some half-truths in the media about Mesabi Metallics, and I would like to set the record straight.”

Minnesota — in particular, Itasca County — is at risk of losing approximately 1,000 well-paid union construction jobs; 350 new, full-time, well-paid, multi-generational jobs; 700 indirect jobs in and around Nashwauk; and fresh competition on the Iron Range that is not only out to mine here but to bring back steelmaking here.

These are benefits Minnesota would gain through Mesabi Metallics’ plans to mine and process the high-quality direct-reduced iron, or DRI, pellets used by more energy-efficient, cleaner electric arc furnaces that are increasing in popularity worldwide.

Mesabi Metallics plans to complete a mining and DRI-grade pelletization facility by early 2026. It’s already more than half developed and once operational would, over its lifespan, pump an estimated $500 million to school trust funds and $300 million into local taxes.

Mesabi Metallics looks to eventually use these pellets in its own value-added DRI plant — which also would be located in Nashwauk. Imagine: Minnesota’s natural resources being used to employ several hundred workers while enabling Minnesota to emerge as the region’s leading low-cost green-steel supporter.

For these developments to happen, Mesabi needs Minnesota to grant it rights to certain mineral leases. Today (Thursday, May 25), the Minnesota Executive Council , led by Gov. Tim Walz, will decide whether to accept a recommendation from the state’s Department of Natural Resources for those leases to instead be awarded to Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., which plans to ship the ore from Itasca County elsewhere for processing.

There have been some half-truths in the media about Mesabi Metallics, and I would like to set the record straight. I also encourage others to check things out for themselves by looking into public records and calling those who can verify claims, such as that Mesabi is in full compliance with its permits and has paid — and is paying — all of its contractors.

Mesabi made payments of $12 million to local contractors and vendors in the past two months. Its payment of $18 million to the state earlier this month brings to $373 million its investment in the Nashwauk operation since 2017. The company also has awarded $15 million in contracts with work now underway. By the end of this month, it is expected to let another $40 million in contracts.

These details are fresh in my mind because I recently began helping on this project. As a former mayor of Nashwauk and former Itasca County commissioner, I know Mesabi Metallics is real — as are the significant benefits it promises to bring to my county and our state.

Another fact that hasn’t been reported in Minnesota but was reported by Reuters : Mesabi Metallics’ parent company, Essar Group, earlier this year substantially reduced its debt and began infusing capital into its projects around the world, including here in Nashwauk.

This is important to note because Mesabi Metallics is part of a global strategy by a diversified international business that generates $15 billion in annual revenues through 15 companies in eight countries, employing more than 7,000 people. Essar is investing billions of dollars in green-energy and hydrogen initiatives worldwide, including in the United Kingdom, where the government has selected Essar’s hydrogen project as one of the two that will fuel the UK’s hydrogen economy. And, of course, Essar is willing to invest right here in Minnesota.

Yet here we are, with the state contemplating turning its back on Essar and Mesabi Metallics.

Meanwhile, the Itasca County Board last week passed a resolution requesting the DNR and state executive council split the leases so they go to both Mesabi and Cliffs. They called it a “win-win” solution.

Before today’s final vote, I hope Minnesotans will reach out to the governor’s office and other officials and voice support for Mesabi Metallics. More importantly, I hope the DNR reconsiders its recommendation and the executive council understands everything truly at issue on this matter before making its decision.

The DNR’s mission is “to conserve and manage the state’s natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life.” Mesabi Metallics has detailed how it is able to deliver on all three of these mission points when it comes to the leases at issue.

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