Iron Range plants to perk up in '04

Minnesota State Roundup

Published March 1, 2004  | March 2004 issue

The taconite industry should have a good year in 2004, but its future is still uncertain.

Last year was particularly bad, with the bankruptcy of EVTAC Mining Co. a major factor. Employment in taconite plants since 2002 has dropped by around 600 people. Total taconite production in 2003 fell to 34.3 million tons, or about 9 percent less than in 2002.

Now two mines in the Iron Range have new owners, including EVTAC, which reopened after being purchased jointly by Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and Laiwu Steel Group of China.

This year all six taconite plants expect to produce at capacity, totaling around 37.1 million tons, but none expects to increase employment in 2004.

The comeback can be traced to increasing domestic demand and the enormous Chinese market, which opened up to Iron Range iron ore last year.

Chinese demand may not provide a long-term fix, however. Foreign ore producers like Brazil are now stepping up production to lure Chinese business, and those countries may offer lower prices.

Joe Mahon