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The Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) is a U.S. based research institute established by the Minnesota state legislature within the University of Minnesota Duluth. NRRI is a non-profit applied research organization that works to develop and deliver the understanding and tools needed to utilize our mineral, forest, energy and water resources in a balanced and environmentally responsible manner.
Addressing the Recession
The mid- to late-1970s and early-1980s were particularly difficult times for Minnesota’s natural resource based industries, especially for the taconite mining industry. In the face of a domestic steel crisis, shipments of iron ore from Northeastern Minnesota’s eight taconite plants plummeted. Growth in the taconite industry, which had begun in the 1950s, ended and employment in this critical base industry dropped from about 16,000 to 3,000. About 2,000 supply companies on the Iron Range, in Duluth and elsewhere in the state were also critically impacted.
Perhaps not as dramatically as the taconite industry, the forest products industry was similarly impacted by the difficult economy. Northeastern Minnesota’s logging and pulp and paper companies, in particular, were affected. At that time, the overall impact on Duluth and the Iron Range economy was verging on catastrophic.
Organizing for Action
In the face of these challenging times, civic, business, government, higher education and labor leaders began to focus on initiatives to help the economy. With a strong belief in its long-term value, U.S. Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Gerald Heaney advocated for applied research. Then, in his 1982 gubernatorial campaign, Rudy Perpich proposed that a center be established to do research on such resources as peat, biomass, forest products, water and minerals.
A "Proposal to Establish A Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth" was submitted to the Minnesota State Legislature under the seal of the Regents of the University of Minnesota. The proposal affirmed the applied nature of research at the new institute, noting that its work would be separate and distinct from the University’s Minerals Resources Research Center, and recommended the SAGE building in Duluth as an adaptable site. UMD Chancellor Robert Heller worked with Governor Perpich and Judge Heaney to gain political support throughout the state. The institute also had strong federal support which included that of Minnesota's 8th district congressman, Jim Oberstar.
Legislative Charter (1983)
Foster the economic development of Minnesota's natural resources in an environmentally sound manner to promote private sector employment. NRRI moved into an abandoned Air Force defense building, remodeled to host state-of-the-art laboratories and pilot-scale projects.
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