By Ceasar Ortega
I didn’t know what to expect when I moved up here and that’s why I am telling you now what you should expect if you’re potentially considering making the Iron Range your home. There are four key aspects that I believe make the Iron Range special; there is a wealth of history as well as a strong pride in that history that echoes from when this area was settled, the entire region is a swath of beautiful woodland mountain regions dotted by wetlands that are exceptional to experience in any season, and a peaceful but vibrant heartbeat that is the community that lives here.
The Iron Range is, of course, known for its iron and the wealth of it that lies beneath the hills. What you should also know is that those mines are a powerful backbone of the community and those who have a career working with them are able to build comfortable lives for themselves and their families and are by and large the ironclad foundation of this community. I have known a few people who have worked in several of the mines and they work hard but live happy, comfortable lives because of their hard work.
The history behind the mines are amazing as well (I never thought that I would be interested in how ore deposits work) and the history still lives today and I found that wholly unique to my experience from everywhere else that I have lived.
There is so much to say about the nature here; how when fall begins you can look out from the Eveleth Mine View at the orange and red for miles and taste the crispest autumn air I have ever tasted, when summer comes how you can taste a cookout down the street at nearly any given time of the week, or how when the lakes finally freeze the ice fishers bring out their trailers to the middle of the lake and you can see them lit up at night like a little city on the frozen waters.
Every region is unique in its own way; but the nature here in the Iron Range is serene and wholesome and an absolute reason as to why living here was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The seasons don’t blend, or rush by in a hurry; they are defined, sharp, and completely intoxicating.
And as for the community I have never seen one so completely involved and willing to help a stranger. I moved to Chisholm alone and barely knowing anybody even in the state, it was scary and I was not sure what I should do. Within a year I already know most of the shop owners in town, people know who I am simply driving down the road and I can no longer call myself a stranger in the Iron Range. All it takes is to want to be a part of the community and they will call you family.
Ceasar is the marketing coordinator for Iron Range Tourism, and also works for the Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce as communications coordinator.
By Zach Johns
In the fall of 1996, I found myself recently graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and like most college graduates, I was clueless about what my next step was going to be. I seemed to be heading toward a career in journalism having served as the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completing an internship in television news. At the time, however, I was more concerned about quality of life, not the actual job to which I would apply my communication degree.
Growing up in the St. Croix Valley of western Wisconsin, I had fallen in love with the north country during my years in Duluth. One thing I knew for certain was that I did not want to join the mass exodus to the Twin Cities. I wanted to live no farther south than Cloquet. I wanted to remain where I could backpack the Superior Hiking Trail, paddle the Boundary Waters and ski the best hills in the Midwest.
One morning while reading the Duluth News-Tribune, I saw an ad for Northwest Airlines’ reservation center in Chisholm and a light went off in my head. I could move to the fabled Iron Range, which I knew was located halfway between Duluth and Ely; the gateway to the wilderness! I also discovered it would be a straight shot through the beautiful Superior National Forest to get to the North Shore. Most importantly, I could become a season passholder at Giants Ridge, one of the most underrated ski areas in Minnesota. And when I wasn’t skiing the Ridge, I would have a fleet of aircraft at my disposal to take me to mountain ranges around the world!
I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot. It might be fun for a year or two…”
Thus, began a 25-year whirlwind of adventure. Working at Northwest, which became Delta Air Lines, in the Iron Range has turned out to be the best decision of my life.
I began my career working evening shifts which was perfect because I could ski Giants Ridge every day that I wasn’t travelling – which I did a lot. My first few winters included trips to Montana, Wyoming, Utah, California, British Columbia and Alaska. Some seasons I skied over 100 days, 30 of which would be out west.
In the offseason, I embraced my love of hiking with trips to places such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Mount Rainier.
One Sunday night I called my mom and she asked how I had spent my weekend.
“I went hiking,” I replied.
“Oh, where’d you go? The Shore?”
That Friday I happened to notice lots of open seats to Kalispell, Montana. The next morning, I drove six miles to the Range Regional Airport, hopped on a flight to Minneapolis, connected to Kalispell and by early afternoon I was hiking in Glacier National Park.
It’s not just the travel perks that make Delta a great company to work for. Along with excellent health and wellness benefits, we make a great starting pay with increase over time. Factoring in the cost of living here on the Range, you can live quite comfortably. There is also no fighting traffic on the way to and from work. In fact, you can ride your bike on the Mesabi Trail from any Range city virtually right to our office! I’ve biked to work several times from Hibbing and even inline skated once!
After moving here, I discovered that it’s not just our proximity to the Boundary Waters and the North Shore that makes living here so wonderful. We are literally surrounded by lakes and forests to explore. Plus, we are just a stone’s throw from the new Redhead mountain bike park across the road!
In the summer, I go swimming at McCarthy Beach State Park nearly every evening. There’s no better way to end your day than swimming in northern Minnesota’s crystal-clear water as the sun sets in front of you and loons call in the distance. Sometimes, I’ll drive there immediately after work and will pitch my tent and read by the campfire before returning to work the next morning relaxed and refreshed.
Through the years, I’ve met several co-workers who also enjoy the outdoors and we started a club to get co-workers outside. We’ve gone hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, snowshoeing, biking and skiing and new people are always welcome. Many times, I’ve been thanked by friends who didn’t know about many of the opportunities for outdoor recreation that we have in our own backyards.
I’ve also found rewards in volunteering. I’ve done trail work and outreach for the Superior Hiking Trail Association. I’ve also volunteered as a mountain host at Giants Ridge and have helped with the Hibbing-Chisholm alpine ski team. Giving back to the lifestyle I love is something special.
As the years went by, I started a family and was happy to raise my two boys on the Iron Range. They attended the excellent Hibbing public school system, singing in the high school choir on the same stage where Bob Dylan cut his teeth. They also raced on the high school ski team which sharpened the skills they would take to the big mountains. After graduation, my oldest son continued his education through the graphic design-media program at nearby Mesabi-Range college in Eveleth. He currently is employed as a videographer/editor in Detroit Lakes and my youngest son has just begun the same program this fall.
Sometimes people ask if I regret not pursuing a career in journalism. I tell them, “Not one bit.” I really wanted to be a professional skier, hiker or paddler. In many ways I am. Working for Delta gives me lots of time off, especially with the opportunities to trade shifts, giving me ample time (and money) to enjoy the lifestyle I love. Of course, I suppose that would be true for anyone, even if your passion isn’t the outdoors.
But if it is, being a Customer Experience Specialist for Delta on Minnesota’s Iron Range is a pretty good gig.
We live in a vibrant region, full of natural beauty and strengthened by hard work, a cooperative spirit, and care for our neighbors.
These qualities are just a few of the reasons we choose to remain here in our later years or return to the area to retire. We look at what is important to us now and what we might need in the future – our love of the outdoors, a comfortable home that with some minimal changes can adapt to our changing needs, opportunities to give back, communities that value us, accessible transportation options, innovative healthcare systems, and infrastructure that supports aging-in-place successfully.
When we weigh our options, we discover that much of what we value can be found right here in our hometown.
Many of our communities are taking additional steps to make sure that they are welcoming to individuals of all ages and abilities. We may need additional support to help us navigate the options available to us. With community resources such as the Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging, Senior LinkAge Line, and a network of amazing home and community-based service providers throughout the region serving older adults, we can get the support and information that we need to make our home a place to spend the next chapter of our lives.
Brenda Shafer-Pellinen (she/her/hers) Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging, ARDC
Eldercare Development Partnership (EDP) Program Coordinator
Northeast Minnesota, home to the Iron Range is an affordable place to live. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) provides data on the costs of basic needs by family type for counties and regions. These data show that Northeast Minnesota as well as Itasca and St. Louis counties – the two counties encompassing the bulk of the Mesabi Range – have lower costs of living than the rest of the state.
|Family Type||Area||Yearly Cost||Hourly Wage Required||Child Care||Food||Healthcare||Housing||Transportation||Other||Taxes|
|Single, No Children||Itasca County||$28,932||$13.91||$0||$330||$166||$586||$743||$257||$329|
|St. Louis County||$28,860||$13.88||$0||$330||$166||$676||$633||$282||$318|
|Typical Family: 2 Adults
(1 Full-Time, 1 Part-Time Worker), 1 Child
|St. Louis County||$51,084||$16.37||$320||$756||$659||$887||$730||$460||$445|
|Source: DEED Cost of Living Tool|
The monthly cost of child care for family of two working adults with one child in the Northeast region is more than 40% lower than the statewide estimate. Similarly, monthly housing costs for single adults are just over 80% that of all single Minnesotans and just under 83% for typical families. Taxes, food, and other costs are also typically lower in and around the Range (see Table 1).
|Area||2019 Median Hourly Wage||2018 Annual Median Family Income|
|St. Louis County||n/a||$73,066|
|Source: DEED Cost of Living Tool, U.S. Census American Community Survey 2014-2018 5-Year Estimates|
Typical wages earned by workers further highlight the region’s affordability. In 2019, the median worker in Northeast Minnesota earned a wage of $18.57 an hour or $38,522 a year. This wage equates to almost $10,000 a year more than the yearly basic-needs cost of living for a single adult residing in the area. This gap is even greater when looking at family income. The typical family in Northeast Minnesota can cover the estimate costs of their basic needs with about $20,000 to spare (see Table 2). These wages allow residents of Northeast Minnesota to take full advantage of lower costs of living.
We moved here from Bismarck, North Dakota on Labor Day last year and fell in love with our small town here on the range. The people are incredibly friendly. When we moved in, our neighbors visited to introduce themselves and we’ve attended many neighborhood bonfires and gatherings. Our kids love their teammates on their baseball, hockey, basketball and cross country teams. We found good jobs and love that our annual property taxes are about ¼ what we paid for a similar home in North Dakota. We’ve spent time canoeing the lakes, hiking the trails, picking berries and enjoying all the wonderful outdoor adventures available up here.
We were a little worried if we’d miss the amenities that come with living in a city. We thought our kids might not get the same educational opportunities. To be honest, we don’t feel like we’ve missed much and our kids have thrived in schools with small class sizes and teachers who really
care about the community. We’ve found good local restaurants and enjoyed the local theater, the fine arts programming from Northern Lights and watching high school sports surrounded by friends.
You’ll never find a place that is absolutely perfect. We love it here, and we can do almost everything we want but I do like to watch professional sports and our town can’t quite support a 60,00 seat stadium. When that bug hits we jump in the car and take a short trip down great roads to the Cities to watch the Vikings or Wild. It’s a short enough trip where we can be there and back in a day, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of the big city stress evaporating as you drive north knowing you’re going home.
I’m what you call “rural by choice.” When I was 18, I couldn’t imagine ever moving back to small town Minnesota. Turns out it was one of the best decisions I have ever made! After getting my engineering degree, I had a great job opportunity and moved back to the area. I spent the next 10 years as a consulting engineer, working primarily with industrial and mining clients across North America. I recently shifted my career to small business consulting, which has been a great way to use my engineering background and business knowledge. Living in this area, I get to enjoy the amazing recreational opportunities that the Iron Range provides while having a meaningful career making a positive impact in my community.
The Iron Range is uniquely positioned with abundant natural resources, which has led to over 100 years of iron mining in the region as well as a robust timber and paper industry. There are well paying jobs directly in these industries and supporting them as well. Whether that’s a technical position designing mine systems, delivering critical safety supplies to mines, or machining parts for the heavy equipment operating in our region, there are great jobs supporting safe and environmentally responsible natural resource businesses in our area.
The skills people need to support our natural resource businesses have so many more applications, and small businesses have started and grown all across our region to take advantage of one of our best resources – our people. There are also great resources available to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs grow a successful business. Northland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers no-cost assistance to entrepreneurs looking to start, manage, or grow their business idea. It is so much fun to work with all these energetic people looking to build jobs and community in our region!
In addition to the SBDC, there are so many other partners that are here to help businesses grow in our natural resource economy. One of these key partners is the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI). NRRI is a regional branch of the University of Minnesota focused on developing cutting edge solutions to challenges facing natural resource-based industries. They employ researchers in a wide variety of natural resource related areas that help businesses and entrepreneurs understand and capitalize on their ideas. NRRI also conducts studies on forest health and wildlife, water impacts and remediation, and innovative uses for industrial waste, to name a few. Their integrated, applied research is focused on the economy of the future. This technical expertise paired with responsive regional lenders, business technical assistance, and a well-trained labor force make the Iron Range a great place to start a natural resource focused business!
Vicki Hagberg, Business Consultant (She/Her)
Northland Small Business Development Center