Bracing for Layoffs: Communities Impacted

May 12, 2015 09:28 PM

When hundreds of people are being laid off in small communities across the Iron Range, many businesses feel the pinch. 

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That's because steelworkers like John Finken start saving more money than usual. "I can't say I've saved enough. Can you ever save enough?" he wonders. 

Finken has worked at Keetac for about 36 years. "I started in 1979." He's been paying close attention to what's happening in the global markets, and acknowledges it isn't pretty. 

"I've never felt so bad about a layoff," he told us.

He's concerned about what the roughly 200 layoffs at Keetac, and about 400 more at Minntac, will do to the communities.

"The spin off on these jobs lost here will be drastic," Finken worried.

The city's sign in Keewatin said about 1000 people live in town. But steelworkers at Keetac live all across the Range, even as far away as Bemidji.

"I think there's a fear, with people laid off. Usually people have a few extra dollars. But that's not the case this summer, and who knows how long this will last," said Chisholm Mayor Mike Jugovich.

He and other local leaders are doing everything they can to keep the jobs here. Because for every one job in the mines, there are around two spin-off jobs, like those at TriTec in Virginia.

"Certainly we're very concerned," said president Mitch Robertson. "U.S. Steel is a great client, and has been for the last twenty years for TriTec."  The steel fabricator does around 40% of its business with the mining industry. Robertson said, sales are going to take a hit this year.

"Going forward, we are moving forward cautiously. There are no layoffs planned," he added. But he's heard of other companies that aren't so lucky, and have had to cut their workforces.

His advice to other businesses trying to cope with the uncertainty: "After all these downturns, if you can diversify your company, you need to."

As for the mom-and-pop stores across the Range, well, they're getting ready for the slowdown.

"We roll with the punches. People seem to appreciate the business here," Calvin Brownlee told us. He owns Bikes on Howard with his wife, Jill.

They know that times like this happen, because their families worked in mining. Calvin's dad put his time in at LTV.

"They had layoffs back when I was a little boy. I think it will come around. But then again, it's a little scary," Brownlee told us.

On a positive and ironic point for his business, sometimes bikes sell well during downturns. "It's an inexpensive way to enjoy different places," Brownlee explained.

Because life marches on, in a place other businesses and families, call home.

"You take the risk when you're in business on the Iron Range," Mitch Robertson added.

And the attitude and resolve remains: Stay strong, like steel.

"It's unfortunate, but at the same time, we've been through it before. We'll get through it again."

Wednesday night, we'll look at how history is repeating itself, when it comes to the steel industry and the issues involving trade laws.


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