Here’s what we’d like to see happen in Ely in the year 2016

The clock struck midnight and a new year dawned Friday morning.
There’s little doubt that 2015 was a year of both ups-and-downs in the Ely area and across the Iron Range. The year ended with layoffs at regional mines, genuine concerns about the future of the local economy and even an unprecedented summit meeting that brought President Obama’s chief of staff to the Iron Range for a meeting with elected officials and some who have lost their jobs with the latest mining downturn.
But the turn of the calendar is symbolic of sorts, and a new year brings new hopes and even some optimism about the future.
We’re not into New Year’s resolutions. Instead we’ve come up with a wish list for 2016. Santa, if you’re reading, the Ely area and the whole Iron Range are in need of some gifts that last beyond Christmas.
Here’s a start for the new year:
• Permitting, construction at PolyMet
Want to give the East Range a real shot in the arm and prospects for better tomorrows? How about the issuance of permits and the start of construction at the region’s first copper-nickel mine.
After more than a decade of review, and some recent green lights in the environmental study process, it’s time for the state to stand strong and permit the PolyMet project.
The permanent jobs will bring more positions with good-size paychecks to the area, not to mention spin-off jobs and a construction period that’s sure to be an economic boon.
The lawsuits from environmental groups are inevitable, but here’s hoping that part of the reason PolyMet has taken so long to permit was that regulators have assembled a plan that’s bulletproof.
On the same topic, we’d like nothing better than to see Twin Metals Minnesota make progress on its plans to develop a mine that just might be the biggest piece of economic development in Ely’s history.
Stop the whining, start the mining.
• Less steel dumping, more Range jobs
We’re optimistic that the Dec. 22 visit by Denis McDonough, a Minnesota native and Obama’s top aide, was more go than show.
The dumping of foreign steel and its crippling impact on Iron Range mines has now been noticed far beyond northeastern Minnesota.
With more than 2,000 miners out of work, it has not been a happy holiday season on the Iron Range and we’re hoping that 2016 brings government action that will help save the domestic steel industry and put miners back on the job.
• Diversify, diversify
While mining remains at the core of the regional economy, it’s just one leg on the proverbial stool and the latest crisis only amplifies the need for the region to strengthen other segments of the economy.
The refrain that the dawn of the internet makes it easier to work from anywhere is both legitimate, and a bit old.
Whether it’s providing easier access to broadband, efforts to aid existing business owners to maintain or expand their workforces, or efforts to bring more jobs to the area, local leaders need to double down.
The announcement that the Minnesota Department of Revenue will bring six new jobs to Ely in 2016 was an early Christmas present, but it’s a gift that needs to keep on giving.
Six new jobs are great, but how about filling all of those empty cubicles in the Revenue offices. We’ve heard for years that the Ely operation is a benchmark for success when it comes to collecting tax revenues.
And let’s face it, a major expansion of the Ely facility would have real implications on the local economy, while similar job growth in St. Paul would barely make a ripple.
Like Mayor Chuck Novak, we believe the state would get a much bigger bang for its buck by bringing more jobs to Ely’s business park. Let’s make it happen in 2016.
At the same time, Ely’s rural location and its proximity to our many lakes and natural surroundings make it a prime attraction for anyone looking to get away from the concrete jungle and work in much more peaceful surroundings.
• Maintain what makes us special
Let’s face it. Ely is a more attractive place to work, live and do business than many of our neighboring communities because of what we already have:
A strong school system, a hospital and clinic in town, a community college, local attractions, a thriving arts scene and unique businesses, among many other things, all make Ely what it is.
We’re also blessed to have a growing number of retirees who make Ely their home and provide an economic impact with their spending.
But whether you’re a retiree or a young couple with children, strong medical facilities are part of the fabric of any successful community.
Our hospital, and our schools, need a stronger economy that provide a year-round base of residents. So too does our downtown for that matter. An economy that allows more businesses to keep their doors open 12 months a year? Add that to our 2016 ‘to-do’ list.
• More events, progress on Rec Center
There’s nothing like seeing Ely come alive during the busy summer season or during special events.
No vacancy signs at local motels, shoppers carrying bags from downtown businesses, even having to wait to get a seat at our favorite restaurants are all good things for our town.
Let’s find a way to make that happen more often. Our festivals are top-notch. New events like the Great Nordic Beardfest and the Ely Marathon were spectacular additions in 2015. The impact of summer baseball tournaments and the occasional winter hockey tournament can’t be understated.
Ely needs to continue to support these and other events that fill our town, and we look forward to a lineup that will grow this year.
While we’re at it, 12 months from now we hope we can talk about real progress - and perhaps even a funding plan - for the long-discussed community recreation complex. That’s a project that one and all can get behind, from young families to retirees to those who visit the area. No doubt about it, a recreation complex would be one more amenity that would set Ely apart and make our community an even more attractive place to live, visit and do business.
Our wishes for 2016 are long and not easily attainable, but should they come true, Ely will be a much more viable town. That’s something we can all get behind, right? Come next New Year’s Eve, let’s see how far we have come.