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From the Current Skillings Mining Review
Excerpts From The Interview With Mr. Harvey Thorleifson - Outgoing Chair of the SME Minnesota Section; Director, Minnesota Geological Survey

SMR: Is the impressive success of the SME Duluth Conference an indicator of the health of the Minnesota mining industry?

HT: It sure is! According to Mining Engineering, the flagship SME periodical, Minnesota is the number three non-fuel mining state in the US. We are the principal source of iron ore for America, while production of several industrial mineral commodities is active. And, coming increasingly into focus on the horizon is our potential major copper-nickel-platinum group elements industry. So things are booming here in Minnesota, resulting in the strong annual SME Minnesota Section Conference. In addition, we are tremendously excited to be able to look forward to hosting the SME National Conference in Minneapolis from February 25 to 28, 2018, which will happen to be the same month that the Super Bowl will be in town!


SMR: What would you say were the highlights of this year's event?

HT: Our theme this year was ‘Minnesota Mining: Meeting the Global Challenge’. Around this theme, the conference this year featured a major trade show, a tour to the Iron Range, three short courses, opening and closing half-day plenary sessions, six concurrent technical sessions over two half-days, a networking luncheon focusing on women in mining, and a gala banquet.


SMR: What were some of the focal points of the plenary sessions?

HT: The opening plenary featured insightful remarks by SME President John Marsden, and by Wells Fargo economist Dr. Eugenio Aleman. The closing plenary featured a discussion with the Minnesota Governor’s Mining Cabinet, facilitated by WDIO-TV journalist Renee Passel, and including Commissioner Tony Sertich of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRRB), Commissioner Tom Landwehr of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Commissioner John Linc Stine of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).


During these plenaries, we heard impressive updates on the iron ore industry in our region, exciting news about our potential copper-nickel industry, and there were many other highlights, such as the unveiling of the Minerals Education Coalition Iron in our Electrical World Youtube video, the second of the Minerals in our Electrical World series. The 19-minute video will be a vital resource for high school teachers and students, while being an informative and entertaining source for anyone with an interest in science.


SMR: Tell us about the partnership you have with the University of Minnesota.

HT:  This year’s conference was the 87th Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Section of SME, and the 75th Annual University of Minnesota Mining Symposium. Our partner in organizing the program at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) is the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI). It’s a natural partnership, as the University continues to play a broad array of roles in optimizing our economy and way of life.


SMR: What were your short course topics this year?

HT: The very-well-attended and superbly presented short courses on Monday this year, organized and hosted by the SME Northern Minnesota Subsection, dealt with grinding mills, the evolution of mineland reclamation, as well as in situ treatment of mining-influenced water. This is a great example of the importance of SME in professional education for the industry, along with key partners such as University of Minnesota Continuing Education.


SMR: How did the Iron Range tour work out?

HT: After having been hit with snow storms the past two years, the weather was glorious this year, and the tour to Hibbing Taconite resulted in rave reviews.


SMR: What was the focus of the Professional Networking Luncheon?

HT: The well-attended luncheon, at which all were welcome, featured a panel whose speakers discussed ‘Changing the Trajectory of Women in Mining’. The organizers indicated that the focus was on how women continue to grow and excel in leadership roles in the workplace. Distinguished panelists exchanged personal and professional experiences, to challenge us all to continue the conversation on what women in industry are achieving, to encourage and support women pursuing their professional ambitions, and to highlight ways we can work together in fostering a workplace environment that taps into the business talent and technical expertise critical for a competitive workforce.


SMR: What were the technical session themes this year?

HT:Our concurrent technical sessions have grown tremendously in recent years, up again this year to sixty half-hour talks in six concurrent sessions, under the themes Education, Electrical & Mechanical Maintenance, Environment, an Industrial Minerals session organized and hosted by the SME Twin Cities Subsection, Mining, Natural Resource Management, Policy, Process Automation & IT, and Processing.


SMR: Were students involved in the conference?

HT: Students were involved in a big way. Many students have become involved through our three thriving SME student chapters – at University of Minnesota Duluth, at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and at Iron Range Engineering. Student awards were handed out at the plenary, and student workers helped out with technical sessions. The highlight of the student program was a Student Breakfast, hosted by U. S. Steel, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., and ArcelorMittal, which provided students the opportunity to meet industry representatives, and to learn about internships, co-ops, employment opportunities, SME Student Chapters, and related activities.


SMR: Will iron ore continue to be your focus?

HT: Absolutely. Minnesota has been iron ore country for over a century, so US iron ore production is our principal theme every year, even though copper-nickel has tremendous potential on the horizon. In addition to that, we now partner with Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) to host the North American Iron Ore Symposium every other year, alternating between Duluth and Montréal. We had a superb 2013 Iron Ore Symposium in Duluth last year, with both US and Canadian iron ore industry speakers, while now we are working with CIM to plan for the 2015 symposium in Montréal, which will again feature the considerable interaction throughout the North American industry.


SMR: What else is happening in your region?

HF: The SME Twin Cities Subsection has been holding a very successful conference in the autumn, focusing on frack sand, crushed stone, as well as sand and gravel, while including program elements about the broader state of mining. This year, the Twin Cities Subsection is teaming up with the SME Wisconsin Section as a partner in a joint conference to be held in October 7-8, 2014, at the Plaza Hotel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


SMR: What do you have planned for 2015?

HT: Participants new and old can look forward to continued growth in the SME Duluth Conference, thus reflecting the vibrant state of the industry; we will meet next year on April 13-15 at the DECC, under the leadership of Incoming Chair Adam Sersha.

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