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Range business owners: “We’ll find a way to get by” as mines idle due to COVID-19

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HIBBING, MN -- Four mines in four weeks. Between layoffs and shutdowns the Minnesota iron mining industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With nearly 2,000 miners out of work the economic hit to communities has set in.

Just down from Hibbing's main street sits Lind Industrial Supply, a family-owned business.

“I know what he’s going to do before he does it,” said Art Lind.

“And I know where his phone and keys are," replied Roger Lind.

A father-son duo, Art and Roger Lind have 75 years of combined experience in the mining industry.

“We’re a service company and a sales arm for manufacturers on the Iron Range," said Roger who serves as Vice President of Lind Industrial Supply. "Our customers are all the major suppliers and producers of taconite.”

From the concentrator to the crusher to the pellet plant, Lind Industrial supply was built off mining.

“Everything from mines up in the Upper Peninsula to Northshore Mining is a big customer of ours, Hibbing Taconite, United Taconite, Keetac, Minntac and Minorca,” said Roger.

Meaning mining makes up about 99 percent of their business.
So when things are good the Lind's thrive. But in a time like this when the industry is suffering their goal is to make sure the business they built can survive.

“We were looking forward to a really good year," said Roger. "And then something like this comes along.”

On the Iron Range that's the case for many mining-related companies.

"It drives the economy up here," said Mark Phillips, Commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

He said this downturn is different because there's no playbook for COVID-19.

"In past mining recessions we've had the opportunity, some businesses branch out and find other markets in other parts of the country and world and they adjust. Well, now the whole world is in this recession so this is kind of unique."

Minnesota State Senator Dave Tomassoni agrees.

“I used to say when the steel industry got a hiccup the Iron range would get the flu. In this case, it’s an actual virus.”

The senator has served the Iron Range for nearly 30 years as an elected official.

“Five of the six taconite mines are in my senate district.”

Because of that, he's been through a number of boom and busts but he said it never gets any easier.

“The entire Iron Range suffers when the mining industry has a downturn,” said Tomassoni.

According to a study done by UMD's Labovitz School, for every job in the iron ore mining industry another two jobs are created.

For example, if 1,000 miners are laid off it's expected that another 2,000 jobs will be impacted, many of them coming from the vendor/supplier industry.

"I'm hoping we can get back. I'm hoping the mining industry will rebound later this year and we don't lose a lot of those businesses that are so important to our communities," said Commissioner Phillips. "So we're going to do everything we can to keep them open."

With Minntac, Minorca, and United Taconite still operating the Lind's are still supplying and that's keeping their business afloat. But they are anticipating a big hit to their bottom dollar.

“I would say at least one-third of our income. This year,” said Art, who started Lind Industrial Supply and currently serves as President of the company.

From the 80s, to the 90s, to the 2000s, Art has experienced a number of shutdowns during his more than 50 years in the industry. He said he's learned from each one.

“We don’t have a big overhead operation here, and I don’t have a high overhead operation at my house or anything like that. So, we can get by.”

But not every business will be able to.
Commissioner Phillips said there's still a lot of work to be done.

"We need help at all levels. We need business help at the federal level, state level, and then we're going to do it regionally and locally work with our communities. Because if all of us don't pitch in we don't have the resources to solve this problem."

For the Lind family, the Iron Range is their home and no matter the obstacles they plan to continue working with the industry that helped build their business.

“It’s not going to last forever," said Roger. "We’ll get through it and there’s good days down the line.”

Commissioner Phillips added the IRRRB will most likely be rolling out some new programs to help small businesses as they try to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The board has a meeting coming up in June.

We'll be sure to update you on any new developments that come from that meeting right here on CBS 3.

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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