Wisconsin small business groups voiced their support Friday for a bill that would open the door for mining operations to set up shop in the state, citing the possible economic benefits to a number of industries near the mine site.
In a statement released Friday, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, Tavern League of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Grocers Association and National Federation of Independent Business all advocated for a mining bill that would streamline the permit process for iron mines in Wisconsin.
Since its introduction, many arguments in favor of the bill have centered on its potential for job creation in the state.
“This is not about a mining company, it’s about jobs,” Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of WGA, said in a statement. “This $1.5 billion mining project will create thousands of jobs in Wisconsin, bring more customers into grocery stores and get local economies back on track.”
The statement said increased economic activity near the site of the proposed iron mine would spur economic activity for businesses servicing the mining industry and its workers.
NFIB State Director Bill Smith referenced a survey his company distributed to its members to determine small business owners’ thoughts about opening a mine.
The response, Smith said, was 81.2 percent in favor of increased mining in Wisconsin. He said what these small business owners indicated is a mine would produce economic activity, not just for manufacturers and large businesses, but also for the smaller businesses catering to the industry.
Smith emphasized the diversity of his organization, whose members range from farmers to lawyers, and said the widespread agreement among such a diverse membership speaks to the economic benefits a mine could provide.
“There’s a strong consensus that the Legislature needs to make this happen. Our members are convinced that at the end of the day, it’s going to have a positive effect,” Smith said. “You need a payroll to buy necessities and local spending creates jobs. That’s really what we’re talking about here.”
Additional jobs would be created as economic growth occurs in the area, Smith said. These jobs could include more service businesses, hotels and restaurants.
The mining operation proposed by the GOP-sponsored legislation would provide access to one of the largest iron ore deposits in the world. Opponents to the bill have voiced concerns over the potential environmental impact for northern Wisconsin.
At the Assembly and Senate committee sessions last week, those in opposition to the mining legislation spoke to these environmental concerns and the rapid speed at which the bill has passed through Legislature.
“This is the most sweeping piece of legislation considered in this session other than the state budget,” Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said at the session.
Clark said it is important to consider all of the bill’s implications. He argued if legislators do not take all of the consequences into consideration, pollution could contaminate groundwater and watersheds and last for many years.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, called the bill the “worst assault on Wisconsin health” and chided advocates for supporting the destruction of one of the “most beautiful places in Wisconsin.”