Economic reasons are the primary driving force pushing forward projects that are potentially harmful to water and air. “We need these jobs in our town to survive,” said Babbitt mayor Andrea Zupancich in 2015. What story do the numbers tell?

$96.5 million

Production tax in 2017 from existing mines in Minnesota. Funds are distributed to a variety of state programs, such as: $19 million to Iron Range school districts, $38.8 million to Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board, $11.3 million to property tax relief. 

Source: Mining Tax Guide 2017, 
available at

2017 Average Wage

Mining: $89,492 (2.8 percent of regional jobs)

General: $43,056 (averaged in 142,984 total jobs)

Source: Department of Employment and Economic Development, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, for Northeast Minnesota


Number of longer-term miners expected to be employed by Polymet, with an additional 600 temporary construction jobs that last 18 to 24 months. Switzerland-based Glencore PLC has been a primary investor, projected to earn $350 million annually.

Source: Star Tribune, 4/10/13


The number of Minnesota mining jobs in 2017, a number that has fluctuated greatly.
1910: 19,918 
1979: 13,267
2009: 2,687
2017: 3,944 

Source: Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines, 
St. Louis County, 2017

Women’s Employment in Mining Country

The Summer 2018 issue of Minnesota History features the story of the economic history of northern Minnesota’s mining region.

In the 1920s and 1930s, with labor-saving technologies and the Great Depression, the mining workforce in Minnesota was reduced from 12,000 to 4,500 employees. Massive iron ore production during World War II temporarily restored jobs, but it spurred a new crisis in the late 1950s. Mines shut down. Forty percent of the mining workforce lost their jobs. Municipal governments struggled to function with dwindling tax revenues.

The Arrow factories employed largely women in four factories that opened in the mid-1940s. Not everyone saw the need: Said a former mayor in the area, “How are we to solve male unemployment by hiring women?” Much of the profits went to New York headquarters. The owner reportedly opposed benefits to women who took maternity leave. 

The company “preferred locating in areas without alternative employment options. The labor surplus allowed it to pay lower starting wages.”

Source: Minnesota History, Summer 2018,

Where Did Norway’s Profits Go?

The “resource curse” tends to happen in communities where one industry dominates and many employees don’t want to train in jobs that don’t pay as well as the dominant industry. Many businesses are unable to launch or stay open.

Norway is one country that specifically placed its oil boom revenues in The Petroleum Fund. According to The Globe and Mail, “Norway was very aware of the finite nature of petroleum, and didn’t waste any time legislating policies to manage the newfound resource in a way that would give Norwegians long-term wealth, benefit their entire society and make them competitive beyond just a commodities exporter.” 

Today the fund has more than $1 trillion in assets, worth about $195K per Norwegian citizen.

Said Marie Amelie, an Oslo tech writer, about the resulting proliferation of the country’s startup culture, especially in education technology, “Norway is a country where the ‘American Dream’ is actually possible. You have a lot of possibilities here.” 

Sources: The Globe and Mail, “What Norway did with its 
oil and we didn’t” (5/11/18); The Economist (9/21/17); USA Today (10/31/2015)