Commissioner Tony Sertich announces formation of Better IRRRB Task Force

IRRR Board approves $1.4 million in development projects creating 41 jobs and agency budget

June 17, 2013

EVELETH, Minn.—At today’s Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) meeting, Commissioner Tony Sertich announced the formation of the Better IRRRB Task Force. According to Sertich, the driving force behind the task force is a need to protect agency resources, particularly the $143 million in the Douglas J. Johnson Trust Fund. 

The DJJ fund, as it is commonly known, is a trust fund of local Iron Range tax dollars established in 1977 that supports projects that stimulate employment and encourage diversification of northeastern Minnesota’s economy. Over the past decade, there have been repeated and failed attempts to raid the fund by some elected officials at the Capitol.  

“We are fortunate that Governor Dayton and our Iron Range legislators have worked to protect this fund, which is critical to our region,” said Sertich. “However, we need to find ways to safeguard it for years to come.” 

The task force also will be charged with developing strategies for improving the IRRRB and helping it evolve with the times. Input will be gathered from all citizens, including current agency stakeholders, previous customers, former IRRRB Commissioners and former IRRR Board members. 

The 15-member task force will be chaired by Ron Dicklich. Other members include:

Four Community Representatives: LaTisha Gietzen, Laura Rusich, Jack Ryan and Bill Spang. They were selected because of their previous familiarity with the IRRRB and its programs, their knowledge of the local economy and their financial backgrounds.

Four Local Elected Officials: Rick Cannata, mayor, Hibbing; Nevada Littlewolf, city councilor, Virginia; Heidi Omerza, city councilor, Ely; and Warren Stolp, chair, Nashwauk Township. 

Four IRRR Board Members: The IRRR Board Chair will name four current IRRR Board members to serve on the task force. 

Two Next Generation Task Force Members: The remaining two seats on the task force will be filled by next generation members, ages 18-34. Eligible individuals should submit a resume along with written responses to the following questions: 

1. Why would you like to serve on the Better IRRRB Task Force?

2. What is your vision of a better future for the Iron Range? 

Responses should be emailed to Sertich at t.sertich@state.mn.us. The deadline is Wednesday, June 26, 2013.

The first task force meeting will be held in July, with findings and recommendations due to the Commissioner by the end of the year.  

In other business, the IRRR Board approved funding over $1.4 million in development projects, which leverage over $9.3 million in total project investments and support the projected creation of 41 jobs. 

The following projects were approved: 

A $125,938 bank participation loan to The Range Tool Company, LLC to purchase machining equipment to expand production capacity at its Gilbert, Minn. facility was approved. The total cost of the project is $282,640. Two new full-time jobs are projected to be created.

Northshore Manufacturing, Inc. in Two Harbors received a $500,000 direct loan for purchasing additional capital equipment that will increase efficiencies and allow the company to perform additional value added functions in house. The total project investment is $5,450,000. It is projected to create six new jobs and retain 60 jobs. 

A bank participation loan to Lutsen Mountains Corporation for $450,000 was approved. The proposed project includes major upgrades to the snowmaking capabilities at the Lutsen Mountain Ski area on the north shore of Lake Superior and the addition of two or three runs on Moose Mountain. The total project investment is $900,000. Eight new jobs are projected to be created with 84 jobs retained. 

The IRRR Board also approved a $350,000 public works grant to the city of Grand Rapids for site development and infrastructure requirements for the $2.67 million relocation and expansion of Hammerlund Construction. The project includes a new 5,000 square foot headquarters building, an equipment yard and an 11,000 square foot mechanical/equipment service building. The expansion is projected to create 10 new jobs and 15 construction jobs.

Funding also was approved for a $37.7 million Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which funds the agency’s core development mission. Development projects and programs account for 63% of the agency’s spending, compared to 58% last year. For FY14, $9 million is allocated for development projects, and $7 million is allocated for public works. 

Also included in the budget is funding for community comprehensive plan updates. This new grant program will help communities fund the development and adoption of comprehensive plans in the areas of public works and infrastructure. 

The FY14 budget also includes a Giants Ridge bond redemption repayment to the DJJ Corpus. The need for the repayment dates back to August 19, 2010, when the IRRR Board approved paying off early the debt service for The Quarry Golf Course at Giants Ridge.  The early payment resulted in a cost savings of approximately $6.5 million. The total debt service payment made from the DJJ Corpus was $8,707,969. At that time, it was resolved that the agency would replenish the DJJ Corpus funds at a later date. Accordingly, $2 million will be repaid to the DJJ Corpus as a first installment. 

IRRRB is a state economic development agency headquartered in northeastern Minnesota whose mission is to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota.