Why Minnesota’s Iron Range Is Trump Country

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - OCTOBER 31: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses a campaign rally at the Deltaplex Arena October 31, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. With just eight days until the election, polls show a slight tightening in the race. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump is headed to northern Minnesota Wednesday night, a land where hope has been reborn and support for the President runs extremely high.

It’s a place that has been transformed by the Trump economic boom over the last two years. Where once there were shuttered mines and communities battered by job losses and factory closings, the Minnesota economy is now surging.

Minnesota businesses added 10,200 jobs in May, dropping the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 3.1 percent. The mining and logging sector has grown by ten percent since the spring of 2016.  Manufacturing employment, which had stagnated for years, has added 5,000 jobs since Congress passed the Trump tax cuts. That’s a 2.5 percent rise in manufacturing employment in just five months.

This has had a big impact on Minnesota’s Iron Range, where Trump will make his speech in Duluth Wednesday. Back in March, 2016, the conventional wisdom was that it was game over, “lights out” for the Iron Range. Now, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune, “The taconite mines are back in action, factories are expanding and new stores and restaurants are popping up from Grand Rapids to Silver Bay.”

“A newfound optimism will greet President Donald Trump when he makes his first visit to northern Minnesota on Wednesday,” the Star Tribune reports.

A Star Tribune poll taken in January found that 70 percent of northern Minnesota’s residents approve of Trump’s handling of jobs and the economy.

Minnesota went for Democrat Hillary Clinton by the slimmest of margins in 2016, beating Trump by just 42,947 votes out of 2.7 million cast. She won just nine of counties out of Minnesota’s 87. Back in 2008, Barack Obama won 33 counties. Now Trump political supporters think they may have a chance at getting the state to vote for a Republican president, something that has only happened in three elections since 1932.

It’s easy to see why so many Minnesotans have an affinity for Trump. The state has a long reputation of political independence and populism – a willingness to stand up against coastal elites. And manufacturing remains the heart of its economy, contributing $48.6 billion of the state’s gross domestic product. That makes manufacturing the largest private sector contributor to the state’s economy.

Manufacturing is also the third-largest jobs provider in the state, after the trade and transportation sector, education and healthcare, and the government. Perhaps more importantly, it is now the state’s most dynamic sector, adding more jobs than any other in 2018.

Canada has threatened to retaliate against the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs, including raising the duties on $264 million worth of Minnesota products beginning July 1. That is estimated to cost Minnesota around $35 million.

A big chunk of those duties would fall on taconite, an iron ore mined in the Iron Range that is used in steel production. Last year, around a third of Minnesota’s 40 million tons of taconite was purchased by Canadian customers, the Star Tribune reported.

That does not mean that the tariffs are unpopular in Minnesota generally or even in the Iron Range specifically. The tariffs are “being celebrated as a boost to the local taconite mines, which supply American steel mills,” the New York Times reports. In other words, what might be lost to Canadian exports could more than be made up for by the recovery of the U.S. steelmakers.

The United Steelworkers, which represents workers at the state’s major mining operations, supports Trump’s tariffs on China but said it opposes the tariffs on Canada.

Cliff Tobey, president of USW Local 2660, told the Star Tribune that Chinese dumping had idled U.S. Steel’s Keetac ore mine and taconite plant in Keewatin, Minn. Employees were out of work for 20 months.

The factory reopened last year after Donald Trump won the 2016 election.

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