Report on Empire Mine shutdown offers yoopers hope

A report commissioned by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in April, “The Empire Mine Layoff and Economic Future of the West End and Marquette County,” was released today.

The project was spearheaded by Northern Michigan University professor Michael J. Broadway and Olivia Engelhardt.

Broadway, the lead researcher for the project, told The Mining Journal that mining communities face unique challenges since their economies are based on non-renewable resources.

“In western Marquette County, the exhaustion of iron ore and nickel in the near future is a reality that needs confronting,” he said. “The challenge will lie in getting all the parties to work together for the common goal of improving the economy and providing a future for your people and the next set of displaced workers so that they will not have to leave the area to find work.”

Robert Eslinger, interim dean of the College of Technology and Occupational Sciences at Northern Michigan University, noted two communities in Canada that underwent similar difficulties after the closure of mines — in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Elliot Lake, Ontario — both of which were able to bounce back economically over time.

Eslinger said, “What their efforts demonstrate is that it’s not all lost. There are things that can be done. They believed in a commitment to the community’s survival. They weren’t going to move. They weren’t going to give up.”

According to the report, Elliot Lake was once considered to be the “Uranium Capital of the World.” However, from 1988 to 1992, 4,000 miners lost their jobs, and there were predictions that within a few years, the population would fall to 500 people. Fast forward 25 years, and the population only went down about a third from its peak in 1986.

This was, in large part, due to the fact that the community rallied together and formed an Economic Development Committee. Eslinger said the community found that “economic development isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes long-term planning. It’s a problem that’s bigger than any one individual community.”

David Nyberg, director of Northern Michigan executive Office of Gov. Rick Snyder, added, “This is a long-term conversation. It requires leadership, an open dialogue and a willingness to move forward. The next step is having the conversation about this report with the community.”

The Mining Journal is pleased that Lansing is taking notice of the devastating job loss in the west end and has chosen to put its best foot forward. There is a cautious optimism surrounding this report.

On one hand, the results of the report could be seen as an incredibly daunting task for the former mining community. On the other, there is a profound sense of hope.

During the Tuesday meeting, Eslinger made reference to the Finnish term “sisu” — which translates to guts and determination — when discussing the communities in Canada that bounced back from hardship. Although they may not have the Finnish roots like the U.P. — he said the community came together and simply said, “the only way we’re able to do this long-term, is to do it ourselves.”

Rebound is possible. And, as lifelong yoopers, we have faith in our community to make it come to life.

This is not the end — it is simply the beginning of a new chapter.

Mining Journal (Marquette)