The Itasca County area enjoys a diverse economy that has allowed it to thrive and grow even in changing economic times.
Itasca County’s education system provides more than a strong support for its students and area employers: it’s also central to the economy. Strong schools in the Grand Rapids, Greenway, Nashwauk-Keewatin, and Deer River school districts are major employers, and Itasca Community College is a hub of innovation. Itasca County is also home to the University of Minnesota Natural Resources Research Institute’s research lab in Coleraine. Groundbreaking research is under way every day in Itasca County, and our workforce is being trained for this exciting new economy.
Forestry has long played a central role in the Itasca County economy. The UPM Blandin paper mill has long been one of the major employers in Grand Rapids, while Rajala Companies is a major employer at its mill in Bigfork. The county has one of the state’s largest timber harvests, with additional capacity to spare. IEDC has worked to expand the forestry sector in recent years through promotion of a ready-made facility for forestry manufacturing under its ownership and through extensive research of the mass timber market.
Itasca County boasts a strong healthcare network and is the region’s leading employer, with over 3,500 employees working in the field. Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital and Bigfork Valley Hospital provide crucial care to patients, and Essentia Health also has a strong presence in the county. Local residents benefit from personalized care and a doctor-to-patient ratio that is far lower than the national and state averages. In Itasca Count, we put the health of our communities first.
Itasca County’s economy includes several major manufacturers, including machinery manufacturer ASV and MDI, which specializes in packaging and assembly. A strong technical workforce and low turnover makes the region an ideal home for manufacturing expansion, as is shown by the recent growth of companies such as Swan Machine in the local market. Supply chains for the regional forestry and mining industries also provide openings for manufacturing growth.
Mining was an early anchor for Itasca County’s economy and remains vital to its success. U.S. Steel’s Keetac operation in Keewatin is one of six major taconite mining operations in Minnesota, while other companies have explored ways to take advantage of scram mining opportunities across the eastern end of the county. Nashwauk is the proposed site for a new major taconite operation, while exploration continues for other minerals in the area. Mining jobs are among the highest-paying, family-sustaining jobs in Itasca County.
The Itasca area is a professional services hub for north central Minnesota. From law offices to engineering firms to the back-office work that makes our world run, Itasca County’s reliable workforce delivers its top-notch service across northern Minnesota and beyond. Arrowhead Promotion and Fulfillment is a leading private employer in the county.
Recreation and Hospitality
Recreation and Hospitality are a vital component of the local economy, with a $75 million in gross sales alone in 2017. This sector has the third-highest employment in Itasca County, and it’s not hard to see why. Escapes to lakes, trails, and countless areas of natural beauty bring people back year after year and lure in many visitors for life. A strong artistic and cultural scene keeps our communities vibrant year-round.
Itasca County communities enjoy a thriving shopping scene, with small businesses in town centers and all the big box amenities that residents of larger communities have come to expect. Retail trade is the second-largest employment sector in the county, with over 2,000 employees, and with a loyal local population and waves of visitors every year, there is ample room to grow.
Utilities are major employers in Itasca County. Minnesota Power’s Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset is a major power generation facility, and Minnesota Power and Lake Country Power both have additional operations in the county. Itasca County’s stable, loyal workforce has been a boon to regional utilities, which provide stable jobs with an average annual wage exceeding $90,000.