West end ‘ecstatic’ over Empire Mine extension

ISHPEMING – The announcement Thursday that Cliffs Natural Resources will keep the Empire Mine open at least through December 2016 has a profound significance not only for the mine’s employees, but for Marquette County’s west end.

“We are pretty much ecstatic,” said Mark Poirier, president of the United Steelworkers Local 4950, which represents the Empire’s workers, among others such as Bell Hospital. “We’re very happy. Not only does it keep the jobs here on the Marquette (Iron) Range, but also the jobs that are affected outside the mine. Just the community in whole, it’s a good thing.”

Kori Tossava, director of the Greater Ishpeming-Negaunee Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“It’s huge,” Tossava said. “This is great news for the economy, for one of our members and for basically all of the families that rely on the Empire Mine and Cliffs Natural Resources for their livelihood.”

Tossava said she heard from a number of people after the news broke Thursday morning, all of whom were generally relieved and excited that people are safe in their positions, at least through 2016.

“We are just very, very happy,” she said. “I think that’s going to increase spending in our local area and people are going to be slightly more comfortable and less on edge for the future – so it’s good news all around.”

Other businesses in the community echoed Poirier’s and Tossava’s sentiments.

“For sure, it’s going to keep the economy going in the area, because without (the mine) it’d be hurting,” said Dustin Gransinger, store manager at Jim’s Jubilee in Ishpeming. “All these businesses would hurt without them high-paying jobs, so that’s fantastic news for us.”

Gransinger said that because of the previous news that the Empire would stop operations at the end of this year, the grocery has been carefully watching its financials.

“We’ve been watching our spending and our debt and making sure we’re keeping our debt in line, because you don’t know with that unknown number what that means to your business,” he said.

Due simply to the fact that people need to eat, area grocery stores like Jubilee might have been at least somewhat insulated from the economic impact the mine closure would have had, but other businesses catering more to area desires for recreation and relaxation are especially dependent on good-paying jobs like those at the mine to put spending money in people’s pockets.

“It’s going to be great that it’s not closing up. I would think anyone in the area that’s in business is going to say the same thing,” said Randy Messing, a partner at Ishpeming’s Meyer Yamaha. “It’s definitely going to help. We were a little nervous about that, because when you lose those kinds of jobs people aren’t buying toys.”

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401. His email address is zjay@miningjournal.net