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Wednesday

July 2014

23

| Capitol Ideas


Mining for more jobs in Wisconsin

In previous columns and new releases, I've alluded to the fact that Wisconsin is on the right track in terms of creating jobs that are generating economic growth. As a result of the efforts made by Governor Scott Walker and the Legislature this year, we've seen businesses such as Catalyst Exhibits, Ruud Lighting, Inc., Paul Davis Restoration, Generac, and Blue7Solutions, to name a few, either relocate to Wisconsin or announce pending expansions and joint ventures that will create new jobs and opportunities for our state. Since the beginning of this year, more than 20,000 new jobs have been created in Wisconsin … and we're in the process of "mining" for thousands of more jobs.

My colleagues and I are now considering legislation pertaining to ferrous metallic mining. The intent of this legislation is to clarify and streamline the permitting process while setting specific deadlines by which permits must be submitted and then subsequently approved by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As it stands right now, current law pertaining to mining in Wisconsin is so open-ended that it deters potential investors from investing their capital into Wisconsin's rich iron mines in the northeastern region of the state. A recent study conducted by the Fraser Institute highlights that Wisconsin ranks among the bottom 10 among 78 other states and countries for having the type of policy and regulatory environment needed to attract mining investments and jobs. Consequently, northeastern Wisconsin posts some of the highest unemployment rates in the state - particularly Iron County, which has the second highest unemployment rate in Wisconsin. In fact, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iron County has seen a 25 percent decrease in employment over the past decade.

This could all change under the proposed legislation. Once the changes to our laws are made and mining is permitted, GTAC, a mining company based in northern Wisconsin, estimates that more than 3,000 new construction jobs will be created. This will generate more than $2 billion in short-term economic growth over the first two years after the mine is opened - at that is just Phase I. Phase II of the project will create nearly 6,000 long-term jobs while generating $1.2 billion in annual economic growth for Wisconsin. I should note that each job created by the mine will have an estimated annual compensation package of $82,984.

The mine itself is located within the Penokee Range, a 22-mile deposit strip located between Hurley in Iron County and Mellen in Ashland County. The Penokee Range is estimated to contain 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, which is 20 percent of the iron ore contained in all known iron ore reserves in the United States. Interest in the Penokee Range has mainly been generated by a growing global demand for iron ore, particularly by India and China as these two nations experience growth within their steel industries.

Earlier this session, I met with representatives of the Iron County Resource Development Inc. who voiced their strong support of iron ore mining at the Penokee Range. They relayed their firsthand experiences to me of how much this mining legislation means to them and their communities as they work to revitalize one of the areas of the state hardest hit by the economic climate. In their best interest and in the best interest of further improving Wisconsin's economy and prosperity, I stand fully in support of the iron mining legislation.

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