The Office of the Commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1941. This office is unique because it is the only state agency in Minnesota to focus on a specific region, and because it receives no operating funds from the state general fund. Its purpose is to help strengthen and diversify the economy of northeastern Minnesota, specifically the Taconite Assistance Area as defined in Minn. Stat. 273.1341.
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board was first created as the "Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commission" in 1943, consisting of seven members: three state Senators appointed by the Committee on Committees, three members of the House appointed by the Speaker, and the Commissioner of Conservation. Members served two-year terms.
The commission was required to biennially report to the Governor and the Legislature before each regular session. They were also authorized and directed to study high labor costs for mining and the policy and plans for future development of ore, and to generally cooperate with and advise the Commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. Their name was changed in to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board in 1975 (see Laws of Minnesota 1975, Chap. 271).
Though the Iron Range Resources Board's mission to diversify the economy of northeastern Minnesota has remained constant since the agency's founding, the tactics used to help achieve diversification have varied. Largely, these efforts have reflected the times. In the 1940s for instance the agency focused on taconite development and mining research. In the 1960s, business development was an important tool employed by the agency. Today, the agency's efforts are more varied than ever. While business development and mining are still key, the agency is also focused on areas like workforce, community development, mineland reclamation, and tourism (some of this information was taken from the Agency's website in 2008).
In 1995, the legislature gave the board ultimate approval of projects and spending, shifting it away from its original, strictly advisory, role (see Laws of Minnesota, Chap. 224, Sec. 92).
Board membership requirements have changed over the years. By 2012, the Board consisted of five senators, five representatives, and three citizen members from the Iron Range. The legislature changed board membership composition in 2013, eliminating the citizen member positions (see Laws of Minnesota 2013, Chap. 3, Sec. 6).
Following a 2016 review of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation State Agency was officially renamed the "Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation" by the legislature in 2017. This same legislation clarified that the board's role is advisory. The commissioner of the Department is required to consult with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board before spending money or taking action on projects.