Marquette County, Michigan

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Map of Marquette County, Michigan

Iron ore is the primary mineral substance for the world’s iron and steel industries. Michigan is the second-largest producer of iron ore in the country behind Minnesota. All of Michigan’s iron-production operations are located in the northern reaches of the state, in Marquette County.

Geology and history

Marquette County generated 21.8% of the national iron output in 2014.1 This iron ore is located in the Marquette Iron Range, a narrow basin of iron formations running approximately 33 miles through the towns of Negaunee and Ishpeming. Discovered in 1844, this range houses Michigan’s oldest iron-mining operations; the Jackson Mining Company began extraction here in 1848. In the following decades, the development of critical infrastructure — including roads, railroads, and a canal connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron — spurred additional mining activity. It was iron mining that originally drew settlers to the area.

Although increased production costs and a diversified global supply of iron drove down output in the first half of the twentieth century, the development of new technology in the 1950s made it economically feasible to produce lower-grade taconite, which increased output.2


Today’s iron mining along the Marquette Iron Range is centered on the Empire and Tilden Mines, operated by Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. In 2014, these two mines generated a combined 12.1 million metric tons of usable iron ore, which produced a total of 7.4 million metric tons of iron, an increase of 15% from 2013.3 4 Marquette County’s usable iron ore output had remained relatively constant over the preceding ten years, averaging 12 million metric tons out of a total annual capacity of 13 million metric tons.5 As shown in the chart below, the 2009 economic crisis drove down iron-ore production, but it rebounded the following year.

Major corporate landowners own a significant portion of the land used for natural resource extraction in Marquette County; lands in public ownership make up only 25% of the county, according to the county’s most recent comprehensive land-use plan.6

Iron production in Marquette County:
Crude iron vs. usable iron7

Chart shows iron production in Marquette County from 2004 to 2014 as two line graphs. The y-axis represents thousands of metric tons of iron produced, and tops out at 45,000. Annual crude iron production was between 20 and 40 million metric tons for each year in this range, and annual usable iron production was between 8 and 13 million each year. Both reached their lowest points in 2009 (under 20 million and 8 million respectively) and their highest points in 2011 (over 40 million and 12 million respectively). After a downward trend from 2011 to 2013, production increased in 2014 to just over 35 million for crude iron and around 12 million for usable iron.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), total private sector employment in Marquette County stood at 21,773 out of a total population of 67,582 in 2014.8 9 The iron-mining industry employed 1,361 individuals in 2014, down from 1,500 in 2012.10 Mining employment has represented about 6% of total employment in the county in recent years. Iron-ore reserve estimates project a thirty-year supply at Tilden Mine, suggesting continued employment opportunities for the near future.11 Empire Mine is slated to be shut down, with its approximately 300 employees receiving layoff notices.12


The State of Michigan assesses mining operations under the same state and local taxes as other commercial ventures in the state (for example, sales, use, and property taxes). This can make it difficult to understand the true revenue impact of the extractive industries. However, the state does collect a specific tax on low-grade iron ore at a rate of 1.1% of the value per gross ton produced.13 In 2016, Marquette County collected $2,650,000 from that tax, a decrease of $170,000 from 2015. The revenue from the low-grade iron ore tax comprised 10% of the total $25,733,523 General Fund operating budget for that year.14 While revenue information for each mine is not available, the county’s budget summary does note that approximately 20% of the low-grade iron ore revenue came from the operation of one mine: Empire Mine.15 The county’s budget summary also notes that, consistent with previous budgets, they do not apply potential tax revenue from Lundin Eagle Mine to ongoing operating expenses, due to short life of the mine.16


Public sources specifying the fiscal costs of iron-ore mining in Marquette County were not found.

Data availability

The table below highlights the data sources used to compile this narrative, as well as any gaps in publicly available data.

This case study is current as of June 2017. Many data sources are updated regularly, and may show more recent figures than are included here.

Measure Data availability Data gaps
Production The U.S. Geological Survey published iron ore extraction data at the county level for 2004–2014. Data for 2014 was not yet published. The U.S. Geological Survey did not publish updated iron ore extraction data at the county level for 2015-2016.
Employment BLS published Marquette County private employment totals for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 (NAICS Code: 21221). The U.S. Geological Survey published average employment data for Michigan in 2014. Data from the Marquette County Comprehensive Plan and a public press release from The Mining Journal shed light on future employment prospects in the local iron ore industry. Neither BLS nor the U.S. Census Bureau has ten-year employment-trend data for the iron-ore mining industry at the Marquette County level for 2007–2016. There are several years without data, namely 2007, 2008, 2013, 2015, and 2016.
Revenue Revenue information was gathered from a range of state and county government sources for 2012 through 2016, including the Michigan House of Representatives Fiscal Agency and the Marquette County Administrator’s Budget. The most recent update to Marquette, MI’s Economy Comprehensive Planning Document is 2012.
Costs Data on connections between county transportation, emergency services, reclamation , and water-infrastructure investments and extractive industries was not found.


  1. U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 Minerals Yearbook: Iron Ore (PDF), p. 39.12, table 2 

  2. Marquette County Department of Planning, Economy Chapter of the Marquette County Comprehensive Plan (PDF), 2012 

  3. U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 Minerals Yearbook: Iron Ore (PDF), p. 39.11, table 3 

  4. U.S. Geological Survey, 2013 Minerals Yearbook: Iron Ore (PDF), p. 39.11, table 3 

  5. U.S. Geological Survey, Iron Ore Statistics Information, 2003–2014, p. 39.11, table 3 

  6. Marquette County Michigan, Chapter of the Marquette County Comprehensive Plan (PDF), 2009, p. 3 

  7. U.S. Geological Survey, Iron Ore Statistics Information, 2003–2014, p. 39.11, table 3 

  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: See Marquette County employment total, 2014 Annual Average 

  9. This population number reflects 2015 data given source availability. U.S. Census Bureau, American Fact Finder 

  10. U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 Minerals Yearbook: Iron Ore (PDF), p. 39.12, table 2 

  11. Marquette County Michigan, Chapter of the Marquette County Comprehensive Plan (PDF), 2012, p. 10 

  12. UP Matter, Empire Mine Layoffs to Begin August 14, 2017 

  13. Michigan House of Representatives Fiscal Agency, State of Michigan Revenue: State Source and Distribution (PDF), March 2017, p. 47 

  14. Marquette County Administrator’s 2016 Budget Summary (PDF), p. 3 

  15. Ibid. 

  16. Marquette County Administrator’s 2015 Budget Summary (PDF), p. 3