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      Uncertain future for the Empire Mine

      The year 2011 was a banner year for Cliffs Natural Resources.

      The company raked in $6.8 billion in revenue, but here in the Upper Peninsula, there were some setbacks. The renewafuel project fell by the wayside, and the high profile merger with Japanese company Kobe Steel to produce iron nuggets failed to make it off the ground.

      "Disappointments, not for the lack of trying or the lack of effort or support," said Executive VP/President of Global Commercial Donald Gallagher. "Just disappointments because of the technology not really being feasible at this point."

      Tuesday's meeting was also shadowed by lingering uncertainty over the future of the Empire Mine.

      "The reality of the current situation is we have an agreement with our partner and our customer that expires at the end of 2014," Gallagher added. "So at this moment, barring some change, we will be phasing out over a period of time."

      The company says regardless if the Empire shuts down, the neighboring Tilden operation will remain open as there are over 250 million tons of reserves to be mined.

      Cliffs is now shifting its focus on Asian markets which have a higher potential for growth. Thanking the community of Marquette County was also a central theme in Tuesday's discussion.

      "On a long-term basis, if you don't have the social license to operate, and that's the support of the community you're in, most importantly, you're not going to operate long term," said Executive VP Legal, Government Affairs and Sustainability, P. Kelly Tompkins.

      Over 740 employees currently work at the Empire Mine, and the company says it will try to retain as many of them that it can if the mine ceases operations.