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Coal Miner’s Daughter


I am a coal miner’s daughter and I am a coal miner’s granddaughter. I still have that in my genetic code, though by the time I was born my grandfather had gotten out of the mines and into farming and my father had served in the US Navy, gone to college, and started working for the Federal Aviation Administration. I believe my dad’s work in the mining industry is responsible for my sense of fearless adventure—his coal mining job involved dynamite and blasting caps.

Fast forward more than half a century and I’m in Alaska, thousands of miles away from those Missouri coal fields near the Ozarks where I was born. Here and now, the mining industry is an important force in the state’s economy, provides thousands of jobs, and is a focal point of this month’s issue of Alaska Business Monthly.

Alaska has resources the world wants, so much so that the State of Alaska Minerals Development Policies are available in Chinese on the Mining Resources Section of the Department of Natural Resources website.

The Resource Development Council reminds us that Fairbanks, Juneau, and Nome were all founded on mining activity and that historically, mining has been a cornerstone of Alaska’s economy. The Council’s website has a great page with mining industry facts and figures I’d like to share.


Facts and Economic Impact

  • In 2012, the cumulative production value of Alaska’s mining industry was approximately $3 billion, divided between exploration and development investments, and the gross value of the mineral products. Minerals produced included zinc, gold, silver, lead, copper, coal, rock, gravel, and sand.
  • The industry spent an estimated $275 million in Alaska mineral exploration in 2012, down from the previous year. Exploration spending in Alaska accounts for a large percent of the total exploration monies spent in the United States each year.
  • In 2011, there were 30 projects in Alaska that spent more than $1 million each on exploration.
  • The industry spent $270 million on mine construction and development of existing mines.
  • Minerals are the state’s second largest export commodity. Mineral exports accounted for 38 percent of the state’s export total and consist primarily of zinc and lead from the Red Dog Mine. Relatively strong prices for zinc have helped to sustain the high level of mineral export values over the past several years, as has the historically high prices received for lead.
  • Total direct and indirect jobs attributed to the mining industry in 2012 numbered 9,500 with a payroll of $650 million. The mining industry provides some of Alaska’s highest paying jobs with an average annual wage of $100,000, significantly higher than the state average for all sectors of the economy.
  • Mining industry payments to municipalities exceeded $21 million in 2012, and royalties and other fees paid to the State of Alaska were estimated at $137 million.
  • The industry paid $28 million to the state-owned Alaska Railroad Corporation for shipments of coal and gravel, and $25.5 million to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority for use of state-owned facilities. The industry also paid $3.4 million to the Alaska Mental Health Trust for rents and royalty payments, and construction material sales in 2012.
  • In 2012, Alaska’s mining industry provided $126 million in payments to Alaska Native Corporations, benefiting all Alaska Native Corporations.
  • Approximately 300 placer mines produced 85,000 ounces of gold, as well as platinum, in Alaska in 2012. In addition to Alaska’s active precious-metals mining industry, there were more than 120 active rock quarries and sand and gravel operations throughout the state.


We’ve expounded on many of those details and readers will enjoy excellent coverage of the mining industry and resource development this month. As mining goes, it stays in your blood. My dad, retired in Wyoming, has switched ores; he explores for gold on his claim near South Pass and Atlantic City. As for me, I’ve still got my sense of fearless adventure.

The team at Alaska Business Monthly has done another fine job with the November issue. We’ve got a really great magazine this month, enjoy!

—Susan Harrington, Managing Editor

This first appeared in the November 2013 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.
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