Economy and Business


Historically the economy of Iron County Michigan was based in ore extraction and lumber. Currently the economic base in the county is broader in the aspect that tourism plays a strong role while mining is no longer a factor. One consistent thing has been and remains lumber. Farming only plays a minor role overall, with potatoes and canola being the top crops.

Iron ore was discovered in the are in 1846, and mining started in 1880 at Crystal Falls. By 1894 there were twenty six mines in the area (although the recession closed all but three of them). At the height of the mining activities 79 mines were active although this began to decline in the 1950’s. By 1978 all mining in Iron County had stopped. It is thought that with unregistered operations there may have been as many as 115 mines in the area shipping out a total of 208,345,852 tons of ore. These companies employed as many as three thousand workers and at the height of the extraction over a third of the nation’s iron ore came from this area.

Lumber typically follows a pattern of large pines, hardwood, and finally pulp trees. This is the top industry in the county. At first a 40 acre stand yielded four hundred thousand to a million board feet of lumber. Around a third of the timber in the county is pine and to maximize this by 1884 there were 34 camps around Crystal Falls alone. Lumber taken from this area helped rebuild Chicago after the 1872 fire there, because of the ability to float pine logs down river. By 1915 focus switched to hardwoods which cannot be floated. This was the spur for railroad development in the county. By 1942 over 150 men were employed by one railway to handle hardwood logs alone. Today lumber is still a major industry, with 85.4 % of the county covered by forest. There are over 115 lumber companies still in operation in the county.

Tourism has roots going back to the early 1920’s. It is the county’s second biggest industry, in spite the fact that Iron County has no Great Lakes shoreline. People are attracted to the many year round options for leisure that have been developed. The area has lake and river fishing, boating, hunting, skiing, canoeing, and camping for the outdoor and sport enthusiast. For those wanting a more developed but rustic vacation the county is filled with Bed and Breakfast stops, museums, shops, restaurants and historical buildings and landmarks.

For business customers, Iron County business association, offers different b2b trip planning facilities, either inside the territory or worldwide. Business and incentive travels outside the county include (but they’re not limited to) Europe trips, Events in Italy and Latin America.

There is a cottage industry of gardens to provide fresh produce for local consumption, but attempts at major farms consume less then 12% of the county area. Previous attempts at agricultural production included sheep ranching in the 1930’s, and combination sheep and cattle in the 1950’s. Potato farms began in the 1930’s and although fewer are growing the crop, two major producers still exist earning about nine hundred thousand dollars in income a year. Canola is the only other major crop grown for export and is fairly new in the area.

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