Steve Peterson, the mayor of Virginia, Minn., has been tapped to become the executive director of development for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) effective immediately.
In the newly created position, Peterson - a former main street businessman and councilman - will oversea business and community development and lead the effort to bring more jobs to northeastern Minnesota, a region long plagued with the booms and busts of iron mining and taconite mills.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Peterson said his main goal will be to encourage businesses to relocate to the Iron Range. He hopes to get several pending mining operations up and running and to find manufacturers who will use the area's raw materials to create copper wire and piping factories on the Iron Range. Now, most raw materials are mined and shipped away for processing. Peterson wants the processing to stay put on the range.
"I want to see the entire region up here become sustainable and productive. Our young people graduate from school and leave because there is not enough work for them. That is a shame," Peterson said. "We have a lot of natural resource and a great workforce up here and I would like to see us build on that."
Peterson joins the Iron Range board at a time when several big mining projects sit in various stages of development or await environmental regulatory approval. Duluth Metals; Polymet, Franconia Minerals, Twin Metals and others are pursuing copper, nickel or iron exploration efforts that could generate thousands of mining and construction jobs along the Mesabi Iron range.
But some of the projects have come under scrutiny from critics who have testified before the state legislature about their concerns for potential environmental damage.
Peterson insisted that it is possible to find a balance between protecting the environment and job creation.
The timing of Peterson's appointment is unique, just two weeks after he started his second term as Virginia's mayor.
Peterson will keep the mayor's job for now, but will step down after new elections are held sometime next year.Peterson owns a bar and rents out a restaurant in the town of Virginia. He served on the city council for six years before running for mayor four years ago. He also ran a manufacturing plant that made the accessories used to install home siding.