The Iron Range Business Climate

A Diamond in the Ore

“Businesses that have opened up offices here, prefer the business climate so much, they refuse to leave.” Senator David Tomassoni [Referring to the likes of Delta Airlines and Blue Cross Blue Shield]. “Employees that relocate here appear reluctant at first, but after a few years here, we know many who refused promotions because it required leaving the area.” Mark Phillips, IRRB Commissioner.

Considering doing business on the Iron Range? Many companies are unaware of the incentives available to them should they locate operations there.  Loan forgiveness, grant programs, employment contracts, private equity agreements, business structure and real estate agreements are all available to help get operations up and running on the Range. Accountants, Lawyers, plumbers, technicians, are all available for services. All these incentives aside, according to community leaders, it’s the quality of life that really drives economic growth.

Iron Range community leaders point out studies that show that the single most influential driver of economic growth is quality of life. Taking a nod from those studies and some from the success of its Twin Ports neighbor, Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range has invested in exactly that. Put simply, if people want to live there, people will want to start their business there, and economic activity will grow.

Of Course, there are other factors, such as financial incentives, costs of operation, infrastructure, and availability of work force; and the Iron Range has them all.  But the current growth on the Iron Range is likely attributable to the lack of knowledge of this pro-business climate. The opportunities for economic diversification are hidden behind the mining industry’s shadow.  These opportunities are either unknown or misunderstood. The Range is a diamond in the rough, or iron ore, if you will.

Quality of Life on the Iron Range

The Range boasts good schools, safe communities, efficient transportation, low cost of living, available housing, substantial residential and industrial infrastructure, quality health care, outdoor activities a plenty, and a great statewide location (one hour from Duluth or the Boundary Waters, and only three hours to the Twin Cities). All factors contributing to a fantastic quality of life.

The Iron Range is a unique place. Homes on the Iron Range are a third, or even a fourth of the price of a comparable in the Twin Cities or even Duluth. A person can own ten acres and be ten minutes from a grocery store or even a Lowes.  Students can walk or ride their bike to school or practices, saving parents a lot of time. There is no rush hour; six miles takes six minutes. Stories of summer athletes being on the lake within minutes after a ninety-degree game are abundant. Parents are also able to get off work and be outdoors with the whole family within minutes of “clocking out.”

To attract businesses, the Range today has invested heavily in quality of life including paved and un-paved bike trails that stretch across its vast (beautiful) landscape, resort access, golf courses, updates to its airport, lakeside businesses and tourism, and financial programs for growing the downtowns and local businesses. Chisholm has a beautiful main street that leads right into a lovely lake; it is hard to beat that in the middle of town. Hibbing’s downtown is “Historic” and Virginia adds another level small town charm.

Back to Business – Incentives, Infrastructure and Workforce

Quality of Life is not all the Range has to offer. Given that the Range is sort of a hidden gem, it has its own institution designed to incentivize investment. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (“IRRRB”) utilizes statewide grants, loans, and other programs tailored to each business to incentivize investment in the area.

Even before incentives are factored in, the Range offers lower prices of real estate thus reducing initial start-up and monthly costs of operation.  There are even grants available for purchasing and remodeling downtown properties. But where the incentives get truly enticing is when the IRRRB steps in.

“We meet with and tailor incentives to suit each business. For some businesses, we can offer low interest loans with potential for loan forgiveness. For some, we can tie in a loan with grants from the state programs, and other foundations. Even federal funding can apply.

What the Iron Range also has to offer is advanced infrastructure due to the mining industry. Our water, electrical, natural gas and rail capacities are vast, leaving businesses with lower costs of start-up and initial investment. If you truly want to produce a value driven product, the Iron Range has everything in place you need to operate out of and have an advantage on the market.” Mark Phillips.

Then there is the workforce, thousands of people dedicated to the area that have Clydesdale-like work ethic, honest good Midwestern values, and dedication to the businesses that keep them employed. Cyclical risks in the mining industry often put some of these hard working people in tough positions, so new opportunities provide more stable futures and these workers are looking for just that.

Support industries such as attorneys to help draft loan agreements, grant programs, employment contracts, private equity agreements, real estate examination, TIF financing, are either on the Range or within an hour. Additionally, accountants, plumbers, technicians, are all located locally for services at extremely affordable rates.

Whether it’s a factory, a small business, or a satellite operational office, the Iron Range has the infrastructure in place to support businesses. Add incentives, and a quality of life for your employees and your people, and your bottom line will never regret being up on the Da’ Range.


Dante Tomassoni  is an attorney with Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick, P.A., practicing in the areas of Business, Corporate and Energy Transactions and Government Relations. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. You should always consult with an attorney about your specific circumstances.