Mining $81,500 vs. tourism $18,000

by Tom Coombe
Boasting wages more than four times that of employment in the tourism industry, mining jobs remain “the cornerstone of the northeastern Minnesota economy,” according to a study commissioned by a pro-mining organization.
With mining and tourism often painted as rivals in the ongoing contentious debate over proposed copper-nickel mining projects, a study completed by North Dakota-based Praxis Strategy Group concludes that both can co-exist with mining jobs having a much greater impact on the regional economy.
The study was paid for by Mining Minnesota, a group working to advance projects such as those proposed by PolyMet and Twin Metals Minnesota, and its executive director hailed its findings in a news release issued Tuesday.
“Mining and tourism are so often positioned as adversaries,” said Frank Ongaro, Mining Minnesota Executive Director. “The results of the Praxis study confirm the Duluth-Arrowhead region depends heavily on success in both industries. Mining provides the high-paying industrial jobs we need, and tourism creates an appealing quality of life for both visitors and residents.”
Among the most notable findings in the study include data showing the average mining job providing an annual salary of $81,500, with 5,140 mining jobs in the region.
The research also shows the mining industry has an impact on 9,446 jobs across all sectors of the northeastern Minnesota economy, with an average wage of $68,444, and that without mining, northeastern Minnesota would lose many jobs in health care, retail, government, construction and tourism.
“If you take mining jobs and delete those from the region’s economy, there’s a ripple effect,” said Mark Schill, Vice President for Research at Praxis Strategy Group and author of the study. “This mining activity supports many jobs in health care, rail transportation, retail and other industries.”
In contrast, tourism provides about 6,400 jobs across the Arrowhead, many part-time or seasonal, with an average salary of $18,000.
Ongaro said the results show that mining jobs provide a salary “well above the living wage guideline for a family of four in Northeastern Minnesota. These high-paying jobs improve quality of life for workers, giving them the opportunity to go out with their families and enjoy the outdoor amenities that make our region a great place to live.”
The study, which encompassed seven regional counties, showed that northeastern Minnesota’s economy has “lagged” both in jobs and economic input, has failed to keep pace with regional peers and that per capita income in the regions’ metropolitan counties falls below the national average.
“I’d say looking at least the last 15 years we saw pretty flat job growth,” said Schill. “It’s not a dire situation, but compared to regional peers that are doing well, those places are succeeding in ways this region is not.”
Schill added that the region’s economy “is not creating enough value for residents, and improving the economic future of the region should be a top priority. High-quality jobs in mining represent a tremendous opportunity to create that value and sustain the future.”
The study is released amid proposals that could block copper-nickel mining exploration, perhaps for up to 20 years, on wide swaths of federal land.
Debate at times has focused on the state of the region’s economy. Some mining opponents contend that tourism and migration to the area by retirees has contributed to an economic boom that would be imperiled by the approval of copper-nickel mining initiatives.
The study showed that despite significant employment in the tourism and health care industries, jobs in these industries are not the primary driver of the region. Productive sectors such as mining, forest and wood products, and rail and water transportation remain most dominant. Study results indicated tourism jobs are important to the regional economy, but the salary and benefits available fall far short of jobs in mining.
Praxis Research contrasted its findings to those in a recent study advanced by the anti-mining Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, which stated “outdoor recreation and nature tourism is characterized by seasonal employment and tends to be associated with lower wages when compared to extractive industries, it can play a very complementary role in balanced regional development.”
Schill argued that mining and tourism can co-exist.
“There are important qualitative benefits that tourism provides,” said Schill. “It makes this place a better place to live. All these amenities and and assets benefit all industries. It’s important to recognize both of these industries are here for a reason and successful here for a reason.”