Back to the future

Michigan State Roundup

Published September 1, 2008  | September 2008 issue

The heydays in the Upper Peninsula were built around mining, and the area got a shot in the economic arm this summer when the sole remaining iron ore mining company announced a major expansion in operations at its Empire and Tilden mines in the U.P.

On the heels of a brisk increase in demand, and soaring iron ore prices, Cleveland-Cliffs said it will invest $500 million to pump up ore production from about 10 million tons this year to 13 million tons next year, and likely more over time.

It wasn’t long ago that Cleveland-Cliffs was talking about closing the Empire Mine by 2011 because the company said it was at the “end of the resource,” according to local reports. But ore producers started seeing better prices several years ago, punctuated by steep jumps in 2007 and 2008. Though production costs have increased because of rising energy prices, the price per ton of iron ore is rising much more rapidly.

With iron ore demand expected to stay strong, Cleveland-Cliffs decided to buy new equipment—pit shovels, drills, loaders—that allow it access to additional but more difficult and costly iron ore at the Empire Mine. Now Cleveland-Cliffs is expected to add 375 workers and extend the life of the mine and its 550 existing jobs through 2018.

Ronald A. Wirtz