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Mining showcased at second annual MDC Expo
When people think about Minnesota’s mining industry, they might initially think of the glory years of yesterday.
But they’d miss the giant impact the industry continues to make on the industry. The heart of that industry is on the Iron Range, and this September 11-12 the Minnesota Discovery Center (MDC) in Chisholm will host the Iron Range Miners’ Expo Tool and Equipment Showcase. Organizers hope to show just how vast the industry is growing and how bright the future is.
“Mining is the heart of this region,” said Lisa Vesel, MDC executive director. “It just made sense to have an Expo where all this work and development is taking place.”
MDC launched the Expo last year with a two-day event that drew vendors, miners, and other exhibitors from around the industry to demonstrate products, meet industry leaders and provide networking opportunities. The event was a big success, and MDC decided to build on the event by adding a few additional twists.
“This is an event grown on the Iron Range by miners and for miners,” Vesel said. “We’re going to offer practical training sessions for workers in the industry.”
Here is where the Miner’s Expo and other mining-related events like the successful SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration) conference in Duluth part ways a bit. Conferences like SME focus more on mine managers and engineers. The Mining Expo is designed to compliment that conference by gearing more toward mine mechanics and operators.
In other words, the average mine worker will have the opportunity to get needed training and see all the new trends, products and resources available for use today. Plus, mining leaders, managers and other influencers will be there, so there are plenty of networking opportunities.
It’s that kind of crowd that caught the attention of Todd Allison, general manager at PetroChoice in Chisholm. PetroChoice is a lubricant distributor and the main sponsor of the Expo. Allison said he wanted his company to get behind the event to both support the industry and bring the event close to home.
“We thought it was important to support a premier event like this that supports the mines in this area,” Allison said. “We support other events also, but it’s important to have this one right in the heart of mining industry.”
PetroChoice does about 60 percent of its business with Iron Range and Michigan mines, so they have a huge interest in the health of the industry. They’re like the hundreds of other supporting businesses that rise and fall with mining’s fortunes.
Minnesota’s iron mining industry is a primary regional and state economic engine. It employs some 4,200 people directly with an average wage and benefit package of $100,000. Industry-wide employment is estimated at 13,000, with an economic impact of $3.1 billion.
Given the industry’s colossal status and given that almost all mining occurs on the Iron Range, it’s curious why some sort of mining expo hadn’t emerged sooner. MDC’s Mining Expo beginning was the idea of Brian Gryzbowski, sales and marketing manager at Nelson Williams Linings, located in the Iron Range town of Mt. Iron.
Gryzbowski sells to the mines, so there’s no denying that having an Expo close to home offers him sales opportunities. There’s no harm in that, of course, especially when you consider that each year mining employees and suppliers like Gryzbowski travel all over the U.S. to learn about product development and technical advancements.
Gryzbowski simply asked the obvious and most important question: why not do it here?
The venue was key, and since MDC is located right in the middle of Iron Range, has ample space, and is the region’s premier cultural history museum, he thought the idea (particularly the link to mining) squared nicely.
He talked about the idea with Ralland Hess, who is both a Board Member at MDC and plant manager at Cliff’s Hibbing Taconite plant. Hess helped champion the idea at MDC.
“The mining companies want their employees to learn about new products and technology,” Hess said. “They want them to learn about new tools and how to safely operate them. It’s only logical that the education take place on the Iron Range.”
It might seem obvious now, but no one knew what the response would be. When MDC began putting together the Expo last year they found the response was fast and enthusiastic. Vendors and exhibitors booked early and MDC added more space to accommodate demand.
“It was an idea that was ready to happen,” Vesel said.
This year’s Expo will feature inside and outside vendors and product distributors. The event is open (and free) to the public. MDC’s educational mission makes the Expo a giant opportunity to showcase the industry not only to workers and other insiders, but the general public as well.
“Iron Rangers live with mining in their communities every day, but I don’t think many of us understand the technology and size of the industry,” Vesel said. “It’s important for everyone to see what we have here.”
That includes younger people who will be the industry’s future workforce. This year, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) is sponsoring an education/career exploration event for up to 200 area eighth graders. Students will attend the Expo, learn about vocational and technical training programs, meet with representatives from college programs and even get to operate mining equipment simulators.
Mining jobs are still excellent, family-sustaining jobs, and they are available. But these yesterday’s jobs. Miners today often require degrees in technical fields. Reaching younger people early about the potential of the industry is crucial both to the industry and to Iron Range communities hoping to retain kids and build a new mining future.
For more information about the Expo, go to ironrangeminersexpo.com or contact MDC at 800-372-6437.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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