Sadly Ely’s faltering economy is not an April Fool’s Joke

Fifty years ago today the Pioneer Mine stopped producing iron ore in Ely, Minnesota. Our economy has been on a downhill slide ever since.

At the time studies were done on the impact the closure would have on Ely. There were hopes of recovery but there were no hopes of reopening.

After 41 million long tons of iron ore was pulled from the ground to build our country and defend her in two world wars, the Pioneer was put to rest.

Ely was once declared to become the future metropolis of the Vermilion Range. But the process used to make steel no longer needed the oxygen rich ore mined here for 80 years.

We have a proud history of mining here. We still have plenty of people who live here and work at either North Shore or one of the mines in Mt. Iron, Virginia or Hibbing. We have people who work in related industries that provide services or materials to the taconite mines.

And each of us who homesteads property here benefits directly from mining with a reduction in our taxes. Not to mention the millions of dollars in taconite production taxes that come to our local governments and also through the IRRRB.

To be sure, mining was not the only driver of the local economy in 1967. Industries like logging and tourism existed then and still do today. But no one can argue that a job in the mining industry in 1967 or 2017 comes remotely close financially to tourism or logging.

To live and die economically on tourism is a tough row to hoe. We may have the BWCA next to us but the usage is not growing, it’s dropping. The average age of a BWCA user is the only thing going up and that’s not good.

Right now we’re working on our annual Progress Edition, highlighting changes and improvements in our business community. Overall, this might be one of the lightest issues we’ve put out.

We started the Progress Edition after Ely took a huge hit with the loss of several major businesses. We’re seeing similar things happening now. They might not be major businesses but we’re looking at businesses closing including one that has been a tourist landmark
Times are tough, especially in the winter. If you want to judge Ely’s economy, take a look at how many businesses are open right now. In addition to the dozens that are only open in the summer months we have several restaurants that are shut down to make repairs. The end result will likely be they won’t lose as much money as they do when they’re open in slow months.

For those of us who live here 12 months out of the year, we need jobs that provide paychecks 12 months out of the year. The Pioneer Mine did that in spades. Good paying jobs that paid year round.

Ely is what it is today because of the Pioneer and other mines like it. Fifty years have passed but the memories are as strong as ever.

Here’s to looking forward to the next 50 years and all the possibilities that come with it. May we see prosperous times again. Soon.