Earlier this month, the company Gogebic Taconite announced it was putting on hold hopes of mining iron ore in northern Wisconsin.
It had estimated a mine would create around 700 direct jobs with another 2800 indirect positions. Now, people in northern Wisconsin are now trying to figure out what to do next. They say their region desperately needs jobs.
Northern Wisconsin still has tourism as a major industry. But Jack Giovanoni says it’s not enough.
“Well let me put it this way. We can’t make it on snowmobiles and ATV’s,” Giovanoni says.
Giovanoni owns a hardware store in Hurley. He says he worked for decades to get an iron ore mine there, and at age 80, thought he’d finally see his dream come true. Then Gogebic Taconite announced it would not move forward with plans to mine in Hurley, citing concerns about wetlands. Giovanoni calls the decision unfortunate.
“You get involved in all these environmentalist things. Save the wood and save the frog and the one eyed trout. I mean we got a problem up there and nobody gives a damn to be honest with you,” Giovanoni says.
Giovanoni says jobs in northern Wisconsin have been fleeting, and so have the people.
“We’ve got some of the best schools in the state but kids, they’ve got to leave. You know if we lose too many more people we won’t have a county,” Giovanoni says.
Giovanoni predicts that, at some point, mining interests will extract the large iron ore deposit there. In the meantime, he says he’s trying to remain positive.
Kelly Klein says the prospect of a mine created hope, and now people need to find it elsewhere. Klein works in the Iron County Development Office.
“I think we continue to build on our tourism industry, we certainly have recreational opportunities within the area, which we would have done whether we had mining or not. We continue to try and build on our forest products industry, we certainly have a very good timber resource. And you know we also, we’re looking down the road to new technology too. We’re trying to expand our broadband coverage area, which could help us expand other businesses,” Klein says.
Klein says broadband would allow people to live in the north, while working for agencies or businesses located elsewhere. But building those jobs is going to take a lot of money and help from the state, according to state Sen. Janet Bewley. Her district covers a very large swath of northern Wisconsin.
“Right now, we’re behind the times and more than ever we need to get northern Wisconsin up to par with the rest of the state,” Bewley says.
Dennis: “So where would you say it’s lacking at this point?”
“Well pretty much in all levels. I mean we don’t get the transportation funding, we don’t have the broadband access; rural schools are suffering greatly with the new funding cuts with the expansion of vouchers. There are many, many things that just at a bare minimum we’ve been left behind,” Bewley says.
Bewley says it’s time for state leaders to visit northern Wisconsin to find out what’s really happening. In the meantime, hardware store owner Jack Giovanoni has a message for lawmakers and business owners.
“Help. That’s all I can say and I don’t know how to get it,” Giovanoni says.