Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) marked its 70th year in 2011.
IRRRB was founded in 1941 by the Minnesota Legislature with support from Governor Harold Stassen to rehabilitate the economy of northeastern Minnesota, a region dependent on natural iron ore mining. Since the Iron Range was viewed as a collection of communities facing common economic and social challenges, the Minnesota Legislature and Stassen determined the development of new natural resource-based industries would lessen the region's dependence on mining.
In its early years, IRRRB economic development efforts centered on mining research and replacing the depleting natural iron ore industry with the mining of taconite. Post-high school training, vocational programs and agricultural initiatives were recognized early on as important to economic diversification. Abundant lakes, streams, forests, resorts, and campgrounds were also seen as critical components of a healthy regional economy.
By the 1960s, business development and increased diversification of the northeastern Minnesota economy became a key IRRRB mission. Passage of the Taconite Amendment in 1964 helped establish a stable form of taxation for Iron Range mining companies, creating the way for the construction of taconite plants across the region and creating thousands of new mining jobs. With IRRRB funding previously based on the occupation tax, which decreased as natural iron ores were depleted, the Minnesota Legislature in 1971 appropriated one-cent-per-ton from the taconite production tax to the IRRRB. That year, the tax generated $170,000 in revenue to the agency. Today, a portion of the taconite production tax, paid by mining companies in lieu of property taxes, remains the funding source for IRRRB programs and operations.
In 1977, the Minnesota Legislature enacted laws that led to the creation of the IRRRB Mineland Reclamation Division thereby joining the agency's decades of commitment to forest rejuvenation to the rehabilitation of abandoned mines and pits. Since then, dozens of abandoned mine pits and stockpiles across the agency's service area have been reclaimed and developed into campgrounds, parks, boat landings, swimming beaches and fishing opportunities.
Over its history, IRRRB has provided loans and grants to assist new and existing businesses, creating thousands of new jobs; supported communities with financial assistance for infrastructure development; led efforts to rehabilitate communities and abandoned minelands; supported the region's culture and tourism industry; partnered with K-12, higher education and industry in development of a well-trained workforce; and reinvested in northeastern Minnesota's forest and mining industries.
Through IRRRB's partnerships with business, education, industry and government partners, northeastern Minnesota's economy has been diversified to include high-tech customer service call centers, successful manufacturing businesses, biofuels facilities fueled by northeastern Minnesota forest products, a growing tourism industry, vibrant communities, a high-quality integrated educational system, and the development of new value-added mining products.
Today, IRRRB's mission is to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota.