Northeastern Minnesota taconite plants had a rock solid year in 2018.

  Iron ore pellet production at the six plants will reach 38.5 million tons this year, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue Minerals Tax Office.

  It's a roughly 800,000-ton increase from the 37.7 million tons produced in 2017 and about 9.5 million tons more than 2016, when several of the taconite plants were idle and 29 million tons were produced.

  “That's a very positive sign,” said Kelsey Johnson, president of the Duluth-based Iron Mining Association of Minnesota. “I think it's a healthy trend. It's been a consistent uptick as demand for American-made, domestic steel increases.”

  Iron ore pellets produced at northeastern Minnesota taconite plants are the primary ingredient used to make steel.

  Production is expected to remain steady in 2019, with a slight increase of about 100,000 tons above this year's 38.5 million tons, according to the Minerals Tax Office.

  Tariffs placed on unfairly traded imported steel have benefited the industry and increased demand for American made, domestic steel, said Johnson.

  “It's brought back a number of blast furnaces that had been idled for years,” she noted.

  Northeastern Minnesota's six taconite producers are ArcelorMittal Minorca, Hibbing Taconite, Northshore Mining Co., Keetac, Minntac Mine and United Taconite.

  Facilities continue to make capital improvements to become more efficient and create new higher-value products, said Johnson.

  “Some of the facilities are trying to incorporate different and new pellets to the region, which is also helping the industry stay healthy,” she said. “By doing that, we are adding new types of (steelmaking) furnaces to our base. We will continue to see investments in the facilities, and many are doing their best to diversify their products and secure long-term contracts with their customers.”