State economic officials are set to approve nearly $2 million to boost higher education efforts in northeast Minnesota.
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board on Thursday will weigh spending $1 million to continue funding for Iron Range Engineering, a project-based learning program at Minnesota State University Mankato that helps train engineering students entering from Itasca Community College and other two-year schools.
The IRRRB provides about a third of the program's budget with the rest coming from tuition. Engineers are needed to replace an aging workforce at existing iron mining facilities, and to staff new, proposed copper-nickel mines like PolyMet, said program director Ron Ulseth, who teaches at Itasca Community College. The goal is to train engineers who will stay in northern Minnesota. Of the program's 40 graduates since 2011, more than 80 percent have found jobs in northeast Minnesota, Ulseth added.
The IRRRB will also vote to spend $500,000 on "telepresence technology" -- high-definition video cameras and screens connecting students and teachers at different schools throughout the region.
Another $350,000 will go to develop a nurse practitioner program on the Iron Range.
The IRRRB is funded by taconite production taxes mining companies pay in lieu of property taxes. The agency helps businesses relocate or expand in northeast Minnesota, and also funds local governments, education institutions and community nonprofits.