When you measure job creation, Minnesota is doing better than most states today. If we wish to continue this trend for 2013 and beyond, we must always be working to attract industries that can generate good paying jobs for our citizens.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 represents 13,000 heavy-equipment operators, most of which make their living building the infrastructure of Minnesota. The Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce represents businesses of all kinds in the Southeast Suburbs of the Twin Cities. Business and labor don’t always agree, but when it comes to job creation, and specifically the jobs that will come with the mining of strategic metals in Northern Minnesota, we couldn’t agree more.
Minnesota is fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources. We are literally, “by nature” an agricultural state, a timber state and a mining state. The jobs these industries have brought have raised families for generations here. We have an emerging prospect right now in Northeast Minnesota for the mining of strategic metals. Metals such as copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, cobalt and gold are known to be plentiful and now accessible. One of several deposits already has over 4 billion tons of these minerals identified.
While the overall job picture in Minnesota is good, we are among the worst states in the nation for construction job creation over the last three years. The governor and the 2012 Legislature took great steps to address this crisis through the funding of public projects, but more needs to be done to spur private sector construction. The jobs that come with building these new mines are a critical part of the future job prospects for thousands of construction workers in this state.
Associated and spinoff jobs
What people don’t necessarily think of when it comes to our natural resources, and for us what is at least equally exciting, is that they also supply our state with thousands of associated and spinoff jobs. Entrepreneurs and workers across Minnesota and throughout the Twin Cities will have new opportunities in industries constrained only by their entrepreneurial spirit. These strategic metals are used in electric car batteries, smart phones, wind turbines and other high tech equipment. Imagine our medical device industry, or Minnesota’s many national defense contractors and suppliers having an opportunity to creatively utilize strategic metals mined right here in Minnesota. That is on the horizon.
Furthermore, the strategic metals industry has the opportunity to provide our state with billions of dollars in tax revenue and royalties. Construction workers that are working pay taxes, a lot of them, which benefits the state more than having them at home collecting unemployment. Mining royalties in Minnesota benefit our state’s school trust fund.
We have some of the best schools in the country, but resources for our schools are constantly an issue of public discussion and debate. Our schools have among the most to benefit from an emerging strategic metals industry in Minnesota. For both a regional Chamber of Commerce and a construction union that needs skilled workers for the future, education and work-force development issues are paramount. The prospect of this kind of new investment is thrilling.
Confident in our agencies
We are blessed in Minnesota that any large-scale projects and the jobs that follow come with the equivalent of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Our environmental laws, for example, are set up to ensure that our precious waters are protected from the outset through our permitting process. We can always rest assured that projects receiving permits have undergone responsible and extensive scrutiny by the Department of Natural Resources, the MPCA and other state and federal agencies. We live in a state where our agencies don’t rush to judgment, because the law doesn’t allow it. And we can be confident, in the decisions these agencies ultimately make.
We are also home to the most skilled construction work force in this country; we can rely on them to build these projects safely and with great care for the environment because we have done that for as long as this state has existed.
We have thousands of strategic-metals-related jobs on the horizon in Northeast Minnesota which will last for generations. This kind of anchor industry in Northeast Minnesota has the potential for positive benefits statewide. We strongly support the continued exploration for strategic metals, and the permitting of companies which can provide so much promise.
Ruthe Batulis is the president of the Dakota County Regional Chamber. Jason George is the legislative and political director of Operating Engineers Local 49.
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