The Ranger - Dec. 2

department of iron range resources and rehabilitation

The Ranger 

Dec. 2, 2020

MDI expanding in Grand Rapids, adding 75 jobs over next decade

MDI Employee

Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) is adding a polypropylene extruder to its Grand Rapids facility. The extruder will create sheets that can be converted into boxes, trays and totes for commercial customers. The sheets may also be sold to other businesses. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a $250,000 Development Infrastructure grant to the city of Grand Rapids. Total project investment is $2.9 million.

MDI currently sources these sheets from other vendors, which extends lead times and presents competitive challenges. The new extruder will enable MDI to produce up to five million sheets per year and create 75 jobs across northern Minnesota over the next 10 years.

MDI is a nonprofit manufacturer of standard and custom corrugated plastic, and it also provides assembly services. Its clients range from small businesses for Fortune 500 companies. For over 50 years MDI has provided meaningful employment in an inclusive environment with nearly half of its 500 plus employees being people with disabilities.

MDI Employee

“This state-of-the-art machine will drastically improve our ability to provide a seamless experience for our customers and solidifies our place as a top provider of plastic containers and packaging solutions,” said MDI President and CEO Peter McDermott. “This investment benefits our customers and furthers our continued mission of providing employment opportunities and services for people with disabilities.”

The extruder is being manufactured in Italy and will be shipped to the Port of Minneapolis and trucked to the MDI facility in Grand Rapids. The next several months will be used to reconfigure equipment in the Grand Rapids facility, making room for the extruder and downstream equipment. The project has a nine-month lead time, and MDI expects to have the equipment online and contributing to product sales to customers in late 2021.

“As we tackle an ongoing pandemic and economic uncertainty, the agency’s investment in MDI supports good, stable jobs and quality employment for people on the Iron Range,” said Mark Phillips, Commissioner of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.

Other funding partners include Blandin Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust, Enbridge and MDI. For Development Infrastructure grant information email Chris Ismil or call him at 218-735-3010.

New child care center opens in Silver Bay

Little Mariners Logo

A new child care center opened in Silver Bay in September and when at full capacity will create 132 new slots, including 60 school-age children, 36 preschool-age children, 21 toddlers and 15 infants. Little Mariners is located in the William Kelley School and was supported by a $225,000 Community Infrastructure grant to the city of Silver Bay by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. The grant helped pay for a safe drop-off zone and parking area.

Little Mariners offers year-round care Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as school-age care after school on Fridays and during the summer. Food service will be provided through the school. The center was created by renovating and converting four rooms within the K-12 school. The rooms are adjacent to the kindergarten and early elementary wing to allow for collaboration between school teachers and child care providers.

Little Mariners

Kerissa Graden is the center’s director and oversees daily operations. She is a Two Harbors native and has 10 years of experience in child care development and education. Graden explained the advantages of being located in the William Kelley school.

“Our staff can share resources and information with the early elementary teachers that can help complement our curriculum geared towards healthy development, academics and behavior,” said Graden. “We also have a pool of high school students that may be interested in pursuing a career in early childhood. Our future employees are potentially being developed within the same building.”

Little Mariners

Little Mariners currently employs 10 people. With support from the Northland Foundation, the center is offering an employment incentive of free CDA (Child Development Associate) training to two people interested in becoming a qualified early childhood teacher. The program includes 120 hours of quality early childhood training, and two positions are open. Participants may choose to focus on either infants/toddlers or on preschool-age development. Click here for more information.

Silver Bay and Lake County have two of the highest needs-for-growth for child care slots in northeastern Minnesota. Prior to the opening of Little Mariners, the State of Minnesota Veterans Home in Silver Bay was considerably impacted by the child care shortage. The lack of child care was a barrier to recruiting and retaining its workforce. Other businesses reported the same challenge to the Silver Bay Economic Development Authority.

Little Mariners

“Quality child care is central to the vitality of our region’s communities, businesses and families,” said Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation commissioner. “A community’s child care shortage can inhibit its economic and population growth. People choose to live and work in communities that offer good schools and good child care. Silver Bay did an excellent job of solving a critical issue with the addition of Little Mariners to the local school.”

According to Graden, the new center would not have been possible without the assistance of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, Independent School District 381, city of Silver Bay, Northland Foundation, Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation and Cleveland Cliffs-Northshore Mining. Cliffs donated $45,000 for an outdoor playground that is suited for infants through age 5.

For more information about community development grants email Chris Ismil or call him at 218-735-3010.

Empowering women of northeastern Minnesota through the skilled trades


The Northeast Higher Education District (NHED) used a Workforce Development grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation to expand the EMPOWER program from Hibbing Community College (HCC) to other colleges including Mesabi Range campuses in Virginia and Eveleth.

EMPOWER is designed to increase women’s enrollment in high-demand nontraditional fields of study such as:

  • Welding.
  • Auto mechanics.
  • Diesel and heavy equipment mechanics.
  • Electrical maintenance.
  • Law enforcement.
  • Heating and cooling technician.
  • Industrial mechanics.
  • Carpentry.
  • I.T. networking and security.

These fields support industries across northeastern Minnesota including mining, construction, transportation and manufacturing. EMPOWER can potentially increase the earning capability of women in northeastern Minnesota as well as fill job openings at area businesses.

“As an HCC Electrical Program graduate who has worked in the electrical trade for 21 years, I saw firsthand the importance of EMPOWER and the need to increase women’s participation in the trade fields,” said Angela Heikkila, HCC EMPOWER program coordinator and Electrical Maintenance lab assistant. “EMPOWER fosters collaboration and networking between women already working in the trades and young women in high school who are deciding on career paths. EMPOWER assists women financially and offers moral support. Seeing women succeed in this program and in the trades is exciting.”


HCC has 30 women enrolled in non-traditional classes, and Mesabi Range has 12 women enrolled at its Eveleth campus. EMPOWER has assisted them with tuition, books, tools, transportation and ballistic vests for law enforcement students. EMPOWER is working to make laptops available to them while on campus, and they will soon be provided Rosie the Riveter facemasks.

Heikkila explained that the EMPOWER students have provided very positive feedback. The tuition assistance and networking support from other women are reported to be the most beneficial components of the program as they pursue their degrees.

Click here to learn more about EMPOWER. Click here for an EMPOWER application. For Workforce Development grant information email Danae Beaudette or call her at 218-735-3022.

Solving regional issues: The next step in advancing broadband in northeastern Minnesota


Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation are continuing their broadband partnership in a new initiative called Arrowhead Intelligent Communities. The initiative is designed to bring the Iron Range Broadband Communities (IRBC) program to regional scale.

Over the past four years, 10 local communities have participated in IRBC which gave them access to technical expertise, planning assistance and an opportunity to obtain financial resources to implement their broadband initiatives. IRBC resulted in 122 broadband projects in those communities such as laptops in ambulances that link to emergency rooms, WiFi on school buses, public hotspots, iPads for fire departments, and technology in seniors’ homes allowing them to age-in-place. Over 500 families received refurbished computers and connectivity, over 1,200 people were engaged, and new broadband champions and community leaders were developed.

Intelligent Community Method

Arrowhead Intelligent Communities will continue the broadband momentum and engage all communities in northeastern Minnesota. The first stage of the process is “benchmarking” which will compare our region to more than 400 others around the world. All communities, cities, towns, townships, counties and tribal nations in the seven county Arrowhead region are encouraged to complete their own benchmarking by using the questionnaire found on the Intelligent Community website. (Note: The scale of a community may vary. For example, it may be a single city such as Ely or Grand Rapids, or it may be a group of communities such as East Range.) Questionnaires must be completed by Jan. 11. Click here for the questionnaire.

Each local community that submits a questionnaire will receive a complimentary “snapshot” report of their global standing. All community submittals will be incorporated into the regional analysis that will be presented at a regional online summit in February. Continuing in February and into March, there will be a six-webinar series detailing the Intelligent Community method and global best practices gathered from 20 years of working with leading communities around the world.  


Local communities interested in submitting a questionnaire must notify Bill Coleman. Email Bill or call him at 651-491-2551. He is also available for questions or additional information.

“Our agency is committed to continuing our partnership with Blandin and working together to bring high speed reliable broadband to every acre and corner of northeastern Minnesota,” said Commissioner Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. “Fast, reliable and affordable broadband access in northeastern Minnesota is an economic and public safety necessity, not a luxury. Our health care systems, families, workers, businesses and senior citizens are using it like never before, especially during the recent months of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Ranger is a publication of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Our mission is to invest resources to foster vibrant growth and economic prosperity in northeastern Minnesota.