The Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce received a visit Tuesday, March 19, from Jason Metsa, new deputy commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. Metsa has been reaching out to communities around the IRRRB's service area to find out what they can do differently to better serve the area's needs.
His stop at Castle Danger Brewery with Chamber members consisted of an hour-long conversation with a dozen business owners, politicians and community organizers.
"We're here to find creative solutions to problems," Metsa said. "We may not be the ultimate source for the solution, but we're here to connect you to the right resource and provide aid."
Following introductions of all in the room, Metsa began with an introduction to himself and the department. The IRRRB provides funding via loans and grants to businesses relocating or expanding in the Iron Range. This region expands to areas that have historically been or are currently involved in iron ore production, even if they don't self-identify as being "on the Iron Range."
"Basically, if there's a good idea out there, we're zip code blind," Metsa said. "As long as you're mostly in the region and have something that maybe adds to the quality of life in the region, we'll hear you out."
The funding comes from local property taxes as well as production taxes from taconite mining. This means the department funds vary depending on taconite production, but Metsa said there's a lag in funding to help offset drastic changes in fund levels.
"But it does mean, if mining is up, we have more funds," Metsa said. "When it's slow, we're up a creek with no paddle."
The department is coming off a slow period with a greater amount of funding.
Several individuals in the meeting asked about the feasibility of funding their various projects. Some of the ideas bandied about the room included funding for the Edna G tugboat; help with creating a new community center in Two Harbors; small business backing and incubation; and funds for trail maintenance.
"What I always say is the worst you can hear is 'no,'" Metsa said. "And even so, bring your ideas to us. If it's a 'no,' that doesn't necessarily mean that it's 'no' forever. It might mean it needs further development."