The Ranger - Feb. 21

department of iron range resources and rehabilitation

The Ranger 

Feb. 21, 2018

Virginia Plastics begins 2018 with new owners and new goals

Virginia Plastics

Virginia Plastics was recently purchased by Jim Zerban who intends to make it the premier domestic plastic supplier of narrow-width tubular bags, tubing and lay flat sheeting. Located in Mountain Iron’s Merritt Industrial Park, the company has been in business for over 30 years as a polyethylene film manufacturer.

Virginia Plastics supplies its products to the mining, steel, chemical, automotive, industrial and consumer industries. The facility is a 24-hour operation and manufactures products such as bags used for shipping heavy metal parts, sub-assembled fertilizer and dog food bags, biohazard bags for the medical industry, blast hole liners for the mining industry, minnow bags, and resistance bands used for strength and fitness training.

“We are in the initial phase of stabilizing the business by reestablishing relationships with current and prior customers,” said Zerban. “Our next phase will be connecting with new customers while upgrading technology, equipment and infrastructure in order to increase the company’s sales and financial health.”

The nine employees at Virginia Plastics are being cross-trained to function in various roles which improves response rates to customer orders. These hard working employees use extrusion machines in which tiny plastic pellets are melted and then formed into plastic tubing, and a converting machine then produces the finished products.

Narrow width tubing and film production has seen slow growth nationally and competitors have exited the industry. This opens up opportunities for Virginia Plastics outside of Minnesota and creates potential for growth and higher selling prices.

“The future of Virginia Plastics is very promising,” said Zerban. “We have upgraded computers and software that will track the costs helping provide profitably of each item we produce, and we are on the cusp of signing our first international client.” Zerban and his wife Joyal reside in the Twin Cities and spend some days each week on the Iron Range.

Virginia Plastics was assisted with a bank participation loan by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation for asset acquisition. A bank participation loan is a low interest co-loan made to a borrower by the agency and a private lending institution. Email Scott Sundvall for more loan information or call him at 218-735-3015.

Pictured at the Virginia Plastics facility: 

Front row: Joyal Zerban, Virginia Plastics; Jennifer Pontinen, American Bank; Janelle Greschner, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation; and Betsy Olivanti, Small Business Development Center.

Back row: Bob Ollila, Virginia Plastics; Jim Zerban, Virginia Plastics; Craig Wainio, City of Mountain Iron; and Scott Sundvall, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.

City of Babbitt leads collaboration to upgrade ice arena

Ron Castellano Ice Arena

The Ron Castellano Ice Arena in Babbitt received a new heating system last fall enabling it to remain open this winter for skating and hockey. Built in 1968, the arena features a standard 200 by 85-foot ice sheet with seating for 1,000 spectators on vintage wooden bleachers.

City owned and operated, the arena is utilized for public skating, girls and boys hockey, the figure skating club, K-12 Northeast Range School physical education, rentals to the public, private functions and tournaments for any age level. For decades the arena’s heat was provided by the school in exchange for use of locker rooms, bathrooms and concession stands during football season; ice time for winter physical education classes; and, indoor training space for spring baseball season. The school changed its heating system from steam to water, so the arena had to convert its system also.

“This heating project was an excellent partnership among the city, the school and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation who all recognized that the arena provides important quality of life to Babbitt residents and youth,” said Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich. “Along with the new heating system, the city added energy efficient lighting and new locker rooms, repaired the roof, and replaced two aging compressors in order to maintain our great ice standards.”

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported this project with a grant which helped pay for the new heating system infrastructure. Grant money is still available to cities, townships, counties and tribal units of government this fiscal year. Email Chris Ismil or call him at 218-735-3010. 

Iron Range featured at national SME conference

SME Booth Graphic

Minnesota's Iron Range will have a strong presence at the upcoming Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) conference in Minneapolis, Feb. 25-28. 

A regional booth will focus on mining and reclamation, business opportunities and recreation. The booth will be located in the Minnesota Pavilion in Booth 1437

Conference goers are encouraged to stop by and learn more about how to live and work where they love to play in northeastern Minnesota! 

SME is the world’s largest society of minerals professionals dedicated to advancing the worldwide mining and minerals community. Approximately 7,000 attendees are expected to attend.

Learn more about the SME conference.

View the SME video.

Downtown and Business Corridor grants awarded

Downtown and Business Corridor Icon

Downtown and Business Corridor grants totaling $200,000 were recently awarded to seven projects in the agency’s service area. This grant program provides funding to incentivize further investment in downtown areas and business corridors by promoting safe and attractive environments for residents, shoppers, workers and visitors. Projects are intended to create excitement, encourage citizen engagement and generate visible improvements.

Fiscal year 2018 grant recipients are:

  • Chisholm KIDS PLUS (Chisholm Downtown Revitalization Team) - $24,820: Art sculpture and enhanced decorative lighting in O’Neill Park, event banners and an updated music system in downtown.
  • City of Cook - $25,000: River Street Park way path and outdoor patio in central downtown.
  • City of Eveleth - $15,280: Two metal statutes of former hockey icons in the continued development of the city’s “Salute to Hockey.”
  • City of Grand Rapids - $28,500: Three art mural building facades produced by area artists, sidewalk poetry and lamp post banners.
  • City of Hibbing - $50,000: Art mural wraps on eight highly visible utility boxes and the Boomtown historic street front project.
  • City of Nashwauk - $50,000: Landscape, accessibility enhancements and a mini-mine park at the Hawkins Pit Overlook at the junction of Central Avenue & First Street.
  • Screen Porch Productions, GoNorthMN - $6,400: Benches with solar lights and seasonal displays in five key locations: Emily, Fifty Lakes, Outing (Crooked Lake Township), Fairfield Township and Little Pine Township.

Downtown and Business Corridor grants are awarded on a competitive basis to non-profits, cities and informal grassroots groups within the agency’s service area that partner with a non-profit or city that is also within the service area. Applicants provide a 1:1 match per project. 

View the Downtown and Business Corridor grant guidelines.

Computers improving quality of life for the disabled and seniors

Access North Computers

Fifty senior citizens and people with disabilities recently received free computers and computer classes through a technology outreach initiative led by Access North Center for Independent Living. The outreach was part of a larger Blandin Foundation program designed to advance broadband in northeastern Minnesota rural communities.

“Access North solicited applications from our client base, and the response was immediate from folks who did not have a computer or wanted to replace their obsolete home device,” said Don Brunette, Access North executive director. 

According to Brunette, the computer classes were taught by Richard Spicer, who is a veteran, computer class instructor and Access North client.

Founded in 1985, Access North serves 10 counties in northeastern Minnesota. Its Hibbing office partnered with Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, PCs for People and Blandin on this initiative. Each recipient received a hard drive, monitor, keyboard and mouse from PCs for People. In addition, Access North assisted these citizens with acquiring subsidized home Wi-Fi connection when possible and provided them free printers donated by Target Corporation.

The Blandin Broadband Communities program is supported in part by a grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and involves an intensive two-year partnership between Blandin and area communities to advance broadband initiatives. This ongoing effort helps northeastern Minnesota rural communities develop high speed internet that is critical to economic development, education, healthcare and quality of life.

Visit the Access North website.

Culture and Tourism grant cycle opens March 1

Culture and Tourism Collage

Strong arts, culture, heritage and recreational activities are essential to the quality of life and economy of northeastern Minnesota. In support of these activities, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation’s Culture and Tourism grant program will accept applications for its second funding cycle of the fiscal year from March 1-30.

The Culture and Tourism program supports capital improvements, historic preservation, community arts and culture, tourism and recreation, hospitality and customer service training, marketing and promotion, and improvements to quality of life. Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to non-profits with projects within the agency’s service area.

Applicants are required to provide a 1:1 match. Grant awards range from $2,500 to $15,000.

Learn more about the Culture and Tourism grant program.

The Ranger is a publication of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Our mission is to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota.