A Duluth port official says shipping has slowed to levels not seen since the 1930s.
Taconite leads the slump, off 61 percent from the tonnage shipped by this time last year. Port Director Adolf Ojard said, despite the poor numbers, things are looking up.
"The next six months certainly are going to be an improvement," Ojard said. "There are indications that things are improving, and we're starting to get a number of inquiries for general cargo and other credible movements of product, so we're holding out a little hope that by Christmas we'll have some improving things to report on."
Ojard said iron shipments could test record lows this year, with steel plants and more than two-dozen lakers sitting idle. Meanwhile, new figures from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, place unemployment in the Iron Range cities of Hibbing and Virginia at more than 17 percent.
"Those activity levels are certainly lower than we ever anticipated," Ojard said. "But we are seeing a slight glimmer of hope out there. The numbers that we published are retrospective. They kind of cover the last six months or so, and that's when we all saw how difficult things got.
Meanwhile, coal shipments are down just 7 percent from last year at this time, and the port has seen a slight increase in grain shipments. Ojard said the real economic recovery won't arrive in Duluth and Superior until people start buying appliances and cars again, which will re-ignite demand for taconite.