Bringing the Economy Home

Mining: Looking for Growth in Old Places

The creation and growth of most western states was a direct result of the mining industries that developed in the late 1800s.  In Idaho, it was silver and gold.  Mining and other traditional natural resources have taken a big hit in the last decade, but industry representatives and some economists believe they’re still a major player in Idaho’s 21st Century economy.

Jeff Perkell / Getty Images

Idaho's mining industry is known for its silver, molybdenum and phosphorus

“It (mining) might not be the largest industry in the state,” said Jack Lyman, Executive Vice President of the Idaho Mining Association (IMA), “but it’s certainly an important industry in our state.”

The Idaho Division of Financial Management said the state’s mining industry grew four percent in 2010 and it projects “consistent gains” through 2014.

“Mining is benefiting from high metal prices.” – Derek Santos, Economist, Division of Financial Management

In fact, the average price of an ounce of silver has doubled from August 2010 compared with August 2011.  Still, Lyman says its difficult to forecast potential growth because the industry’s fate is largely dependent upon global commodity prices. 

Lyman, and the Idaho Mining Association, represent the large operations in Idaho like Monsanto and Hecla Mining Company.  He said the IMA’s mines are making long-term investments to expand existing mines.

“Hecla Mining is going to invest an additional $200 million to dig the Lucky Friday Mine deeper, almost to the 2,000 foot level,” said Lyman, “which will lengthen its production life.”

Silver is just one of Idaho’s mining main-stays.  The state also produces molybdenum, phosphate, lead, zinc and copper.

Molybdenum, used to strengthen steel

At least two molybdenum mines are also trying to expand their operations.  Lyman said the Thompson Creek Mine is in the process of expanding so the mine’s life will extend to the year 2025. Meanwhile, another mining company has begun exploratory drilling in a massive moly deposit in south-central Idaho. It’s known as the CUMO Mine Project.



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