Pence promises copper-nickel expansion during Duluth visit
DULUTH—Vice President Mike Pence blew in and out of Duluth on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in less than four hours, promising while he was there to capitalize on an economy growing in chunks, he said, for the first time in 16 years.
"It's going to happen," Pence said, talking about expansion into copper-nickel mining on the Iron Range. "Take it to the bank."
Pence spoke for 15 minutes inside Industrial Weldors & Machinists, a 66-year-old business and machine shop.
Flanked by 10 workers in blue coveralls, the vice president came across in sharp contrast to his boss, President Donald Trump. Instead of the aggressive, verbal stream of consciousness of a Trump rally, Pence was cheerful and delivered a measured assessment of the economy. He cited July's well-publicized 4.1 percent increase in gross domestic product as a bellwether of more to come. Pence cleverly stitched in the IWM example throughout his remarks, calling the company and Duluth "emblematic" of the country's economic surge.
"This is an American success story of generations," Pence said of IWM, a third-generation family business which gets 70 percent of its work by rebuilding massive rock crushers used to extract taconite iron ore on the Iron Range.
Trump tax cuts helped the business and its employees, Pence said — including thousands of dollars in investments by the company into IWM employee pensions earlier this year.
"That's what it's all about," Pence said.
It was an easy fact to check after the vice president's remarks. All four sibling owners of the company were on hand — Dawn Bergh and her brothers Rick, Rob and Randy Abernethy. Bergh confirmed the pension investments for the company's 32 employees.
"The boilermakers' pension is in the toilet," Bergh said. "They're worried about it. We wanted to give them something that would keep them around. It's really hard to get employees. We're hiring right now for both a welder and a machinist."
The West Duluth machine shop was in pristine order to greet the vice president and GOP-endorsed congressional candidate Pete Stauber, who met Pence at the airport. From there, the two attended a private fundraising event for Stauber's 8th Congressional District campaign.
Rob Abernethy said he'd been both energized and exhausted by the experience — spending mostly sleepless days preparing for it since learning about the Pence visit on Saturday.
"It's absolutely exciting," he said. "I've slept maybe 20 hours since the day we found out."
The shop needed to be dusted, swept and decluttered.
"It's a big, dirty place," machinist Kenny Heehn said. "We're not used to having spectators."
Stauber didn't take the podium or say much at all. Instead he smiled, made small talk with the throng of supporters in attendance and generally took in the scene as Pence extolled the Hermantown-based candidate's virtues as a retired Duluth police officer and small-business owner.
"Pete, we need you," Pence said. "We really do."
Pence recalled being Indiana's governor at a time when the steel industry endured "a hollowing out," he said, by foreign competition.
"The truth of the matter is American steel mills are coming back," Pence said. "They're hiring again, they're expanding again and they are hungry for Minnesota iron."
The workers behind Pence wore buttons in support of mining, and Pence took on the issue that is at the core of the 8th District — do voters support new and different types of mines, or are they wary of what precious-metals mining might do to the water-rich environments in northern Minnesota?
"You understand the relationship between America's natural resources and American greatness," Pence told the crowd of roughly 100 guests — most associated with Stauber or the company owners and employees.
"The last president was on his way out the door when he imposed a federal ban on mining on a huge section of northeast Minnesota," Pence said, citing President Barack Obama's temporary ban to study mining impacts on the Superior National Forest. "But this president is rolling back the ban and we are clearing the way as we speak for new mines."
The Pence visit came on the heels of President Trump's visit in support of Stauber in June.
With the Democratic-Farmer-Labor field split among five candidates, Stauber owns the most accomplished campaign to date in the 8th District.
Still, he faces a challenge from Duluth's Harry Welty in Tuesday's primary. A victory there and it's likely Stauber and the 8th District will see more visits this midterm election from the men occupying the White House.
"We'll be in Minnesota as often as it takes," Pence said, "to make Pete Stauber the next congressman."