VIRGINIA, Minn. (AP) -- If everything were to go right with the eight companies now exploring Iron Range ore deposits or mulling steel projects in the region, another 2,520 jobs could be created.
That might sound dreamy, and experts say it probably is.
Still, even if just 25 percent (about 680) of those jobs came to fruition, the economic blow from the impending closing of LTV Steel's Hoyt Lakes facility -- which employs 1,375 -- could be a bit less severe.
Also helping soften the blow: 550 of the LTV employees will be eligible for immediate pensions, and 687 will collect pensions later, when they're old enough. About 10 percent of LTV's employees will be left without pensions.
Cleveland-Cliffs, which manages Hibbing Taconite and owns Northshore Mining of Babbitt and Silver Bay, as well as mines in Michigan, has signed a 10-year deal to supply LTV with the bulk of its taconite pellets after the closure. That could amount to 50 million tons of pellets.
Cliffs spokesman Dave Gardner has said the increased demand will lead to an additional 100 to 200 jobs at Northshore Mining, and could also mean jobs at Hibbing Taconite.
The other Iron Range taconite mines -- Ispat-Inland Mining of Virginia, National Steel of Keewatin and EVTAC of Eveleth -- have said they won't increase production or employment.
That leaves other projects to fill the remaining employment void.
''Mining interest comes in cycles, and currently exploration on the Range is on the upswing,'' said Bill Brice, director of the Division of Lands and Minerals for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Brice said there are two well known copper-nickel deposits close to the Range.
''They (those deposits) have not been economic to mine in the past, so its a matter of if the extracting process has improved or the value of the metals have to go up to make it economically worth it,'' Brice said.
Colorado-based PolyMet has been testing one of those sites, near Babbitt, for copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum, palladium and gold. A PolyMet mine could result in 400 to 450 jobs. The earliest it could be running would be in three years.
The second deposit, also near Babbitt, has drawn interest from several companies, including Washington-based Cominco-American Inc.
But an official with the Ontario-based Wallbridge Corporation, which is also exploring Range deposits, put the prospecting business in perspective. He said only about one out of 1,000 claims eventually becomes a mine.
''And that's probably being optimistic,'' said Mark Hall, secretary and land manager for Wallbridge.
Still, Hall said his company has ''a lot of faith in the Duluth Complex,'' an area Wallbridge is exploring near Babbitt and Ely. ''We are looking there instead of 180,000 other locations.''
On a different front, two companies are studying the feasibility of value-added steel and iron projects for the Range.
MIS has proposed an integrated steel making project that would employ 900 to 1,000 workers. The company is working on lining up financing.
Cleveland-Cliffs is working on a direct reduced iron project that would produce pig iron at Northshore Mining.
Combined with other projects at various early stages of development, at least 2,520 jobs theoretically could result. But it remains unclear if that's likely.
''With mineral prospecting it's very unusual for projects to just fall into place,'' Brice said.
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