Scattered across the table outside Lory Fedo’s office at the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce are mining magazines, “We Support Mining” signs, mining pamphlets and even a pink hard hat with a sticker that reads “Mining Supports Us.”
It’s just some of the memorabilia she’s collected over her 28 years as the chamber president, and next month, Fedo is set to retire.
Throughout her time advocating for local businesses and community advancement, Fedo has earned a rock solid reputation for her pro-mining initiatives.
The native of upper Michigan grew up in a mining town not unlike the communities of northern Minnesota. Throughout grade school, she watched lives changes as the mines there shut down one-by-one. Even a young girl, she intuited the devastation happening around her.
“My view as a child was just seeing my community collapse and all of my friends move away,” Fedo began. “It was always an important part of my life to work toward helping the industry stay viable in the northern part of the United States.”
In college, Fedo studied economics and mining and recognized certain aspects of Michigan were comparable to the economy of Wales, a country in the United Kingdom where coal mining was king. Fedo went so far as to visit the coal mining communities of the eastern Appalachia region of the U.S. Those experiences shaped her worldview and ignited a sense of purpose. She used her interest in economics, mining, communities, politics and the social effects of industry on communities to fan the flames of industry right here on the Iron Range.
“This chamber has always been strong with mining,” Fedo said. “We took a lot of steps to support the mining industry on issues that were important to them. It was my intent to make sure we provided information to the other chambers in the area to help them understand how those issues affected them.”
Many, if not all, of the surrounding Chambers have grown into staunch supporters of Fedo’s and and share in her mission. One of her biggest partners was found in Bud Stone, the longstanding president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The two have often found themselves collaborating on issues affecting local mining and forestry, and Fedo was thankful to have him by her side.
“Lory has done an outstanding job as a leader of the Hibbing Chamber over the years,” Stone said in a recent phone interview. “I think she’s been an extremely good asset on local issues and those aren't just restricted to northeastern Minnesota — they affect the whole state. She’s someone who’s been very conscious of that connection and she has a lot of respect in that position.”
One accomplishment Fedo was particularly proud of in recent years was helping with a publication called “The Iron Range: The Times They Are A-Changin’...” which ran in the Twin Cities Magazine. The 16-page special section was published last year and detailed how the roles of women are changing on the Iron Range as more women take up mining and manufacturing jobs. The chamber then hosted an event at the Glensheen mansion in Duluth, Minn., where business leaders were treated to presentation in same vein and provided copies of the publication.
“It was really exciting for me to see that change in the industry regarding women and to be a part of that and to help showcase that for the area,” Fedo said.
Fedo’s work at the chamber has encompassed one overarching goal: to bust up old stereotypes about mining. It has been her mission to educate people about the growing technology, safety protocol and diverse workforce the industry boasts today. Every step of the way, she has worked to shut down false notions that “bread lines” still exist and mines offer only dirty jobs for an all-male workforce.
To this day, she still receives calls from outside the area wondering if any mines remain open.
“Some people have a misconception about the mines when, in reality, mining is very technological and it has a varied workforce and is much different than it was decades ago. That is important for people to understand.”
Especially considering millions of dollars from taconite tax goes out across the state to infuse schools.
To help demystify the subject matter, the chamber used their one-hour programs called “Lunch and Learns” as a platform. “Lunch and Learns” provide an opportunity for attendees to hear from experts on selected topics and engage in a one-on-one setting to ask questions. Dedicated a series to mining, Fedo invited Frank Ongaro, executive director of the coalition Mining Minnesota, and Kelsey Johnson, president of Iron Mining Association, to present along with geologists, experts in mining technology, representatives from Poly-Met, Twin Metals, and others. The series was touted a success and many walked away more knowledgeable for it.
“For me, it’s been about trying to get that information out to the rest of the world,” Fedo reflected. “Because we have some of the greatest scientists and engineering minds in the world here on the Iron Range making sure that it’s safe and making sure that it’s environmentally friendly.”
Fedo’s efforts have even stretched into the political realm. Since 2013, she joined the board of Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition that represents labor, businesses, communities and other advocates for job creation and investment. They’ve been known to take the fight to the frontline of legal battles involving copper-nickel and iron mining. Fedo herself has testified on numerous occasions and arranged for busloads of supporters to rally alongside her at hearings to ensure the voice of the Iron Range was heard loud and clear.
Nancy Norr, director of regional development at Minnesota Power in Duluth, and chair of the Jobs for Minnesotans board, described how Fedo’s role was vital in the hearings associated with PolyMet EIS, supplemental draft EIS as well as the hearings on the final EIS and the Permit to Mine hearing — to name a few.
Norr noted Fedo was highly engaged in opposing the threatened federal action to withdraw minerals in the Superior National Forest while soliciting supportive public comments and attendance at listening sessions and public hearings.
“Lory often prepared and delivered testimony representing not only her personal passion for the mining industry but also was the voice of the entire Hibbing chamber membership,” Norr said. “As a result of her hard work, the record of support for mining in the region provided necessary balance to the well-organized, and nationally connected opposition groups. In part, Lory was responsible for the creation of Better in Our Backyard, an emerging advocacy group working to engage young professionals from the area that work in and support the industries that make up the regional economic backbone.”
Norr also described Fedo as a board member who embraced her role in supporting safe energy transportation while calling for support of the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement project; throughout the process, Fedo kept the community informed and attended related administrative law judge hearings.
Fedo has been happy to do it as she believes it was necessary to preserve the economy of Iron Range.
“I’m really proud of the people that I’ve worked with over the years. They’ve stuck to it and really fought for this area and done what they could to keep our way of life up here and to get the word out to the rest of the world on who we are and what we do.”
Time and again, that has meant filling buses with supporters, which has been an integral aspect of her work. The collaborative efforts of once divided groups rallying together provide tangible proof that chamber, labor and mining can align to bolster a larger scope of economic success for decades to come. Fedo has worked hard to make that dream come to fruition.
Not only that, Fedo has lead by example and encouraged her fellow industry supporters to write letters to newspapers throughout the state sharing their resolutions of support. She’s also made countless phone calls to representatives and worked closely with public officials.
“I’ve particularly enjoyed with with local — and non-local — legislators and work with them and get to know them and jointly fight the good fight,” she said.
Some of those have included DFLers, such as state Sens. David Tomassoni and Thomas Bakk, and Reps. Julie Sandstede and Dave Lislegard, and former politicians Carly Melin, Jason Metsa and the late Tom Rukavina.
Fedo has even made mining a frontline question during candidate forums for council, legislative, county and congressional hopefuls, including on governor’s debate in the past. The idea was to let the public know where candidates stood on issues that had potential to impact the local economy. Fedo was also known to line up bus tours to Poly-Met, Hibbing Taconite and Mesabi Nugget for no other reason than to allow business leaders to learn more about mining.
Fedo is also quick to point out that the cover of the Hibbing Area Chamber’s membership packet features a spanning shot of a local open mine pit.
“The mines are front and center on pretty much everything we do,” she said. “I did the best I could as often as I could. I tried to help other people to raise their voice in order to protect our way of life, and the industry and their friends and neighbors who work in mining and depend on it.”
She added, “If you stand up and you do it, other people find the courage to as well. That’s what I hope happens from here on out. It’ll only get better that happens.”