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Cliffs keeps public affairs on front burner
Photo: Sandy Karnowski
As a major global iron ore producer, and a metallurgical coal producer, Cliffs Natural Resources portrays an active interest in interacting with the communities where it has mines and facilities. Transparency in finances and operations is a priority of this publicly owned company. With Sandy Karnowski as the district manager of public affairs in Minnesota for Cliffs, readily accessing information about their area mines happens with relative ease.
Karnowski has been with Cliffs for just over three years, but they have had a public affairs presence in Minnesota for decades. Under her previous name of Sandy Drag, she reported on the mining industry for WDIO-WIRT in the early 2000s.
Operations at Hibbing Taconite and NorthShore Mining in Silver Bay along with offices in Duluth comprise Cliffs Minnesota facilities. A member of the S&P 500 Index, the company says it strives to find a balance between running a money-making enterprise and fielding questions from the community or media.
Assigning a specific person to handle media and public affairs within each region, Cliffs has public relations managers in Michigan, Canada, Australia, and Cleveland.
“Our thought is that no two communities are the same, so our approach to engagement varies,” said Karnowski, emphasizing that regional representation facilitates approachability.
Working in Minnesota, Karnowski said she sees a significant interest in the mining industry, primarily because there are so many iron ore operations regionally. Northern Minnesota’s importance as a place for outdoor recreation also plays a role, she said.
“We also have this lifestyle of recreation and being out in nature, and those two areas tend to collide,” she said. That collision between economics and environment draws interest from many parties, and Cliffs spends a significant amount of time addressing environmental questions at all of their operations.
The company actively works to draw employees into educating the community about mining. Karnowski said.
“Something that sets us apart is getting our employees engaged in the community, giving them opportunities to talk in schools and meet with folks,” she said. Last fall, Cliffs formed the Cliffs Women Connect as an outlet for professional development for their female workforce. Community outreach for Cliffs Women Connect has included activities like visiting classrooms at William Kelley School in Silver Bay. Female employees meet with students, sharing information on careers in mining and their jobs in the industry.
Cliffs often holds public tours at some of its operations during the summer, something they hope will help increase understanding of how and why they make the decisions they do. “Understanding mining is very difficult from the outside, and bringing people inside helps that understanding,” Karnowski said. She views that shared understanding as a priority as public stakeholder interest grows, putting greater responsibility on Cliffs to provide information.
“That has evolved over the years for Cliffs, and we are at a good point now,” she said.
That level of community involvement is what Cliffs says brings the understanding necessary for mutual community and company goals.
“Whenever possible, we invite community members to come and see how we do things, and that helps them understand why we have the impact in the community, and more importantly, what we are doing to mitigate those impacts for issues like the expanding footprint of our mine, or noise mitigation for blasting.”
Cliffs philosophy on stakeholder engagements is summed up by Karnowski as working toward defining themselves as a transparent company that engages community, businesses, government leaders, state and federal agencies to form partnerships. Karnowski said.
“We have found those relationships have not only been helpful to Cliffs from a business perspective, but also to the community because they are part of the process.”
Kitty Mayo is a North Shore-based freelance writer.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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