State grant for mining staffing firm questioned

Kelly Sloan
Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

A Western Colorado lawmaker questions the wisdom of providing state economic development funding to a company that fills jobs outside Colorado.

“I think TK Mining is a fine business, and they do a great work in providing jobs for our mining professionals. But the fact is that those jobs are in other states and other countries,” said State Sen. Steve King, a Republican from Grand Junction.

Based in Delta, TK Mining supplies experienced miners, equipment operators and trainers for projects across the United States as well as in Canada and other countries.

In his recent State of the State Address, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper named TK Mining as one of the recipients of funding from the Rural Economic Development Grant Program and efforts to award $3 million to small businesses in rural communities. Hickenlooper said the $350,000 grant will enable TK Mining to add five to 10 employees, doubling the staff at its Delta operation.

Keith Buhrdorf, owner and chief financial officer of TK Mining, said the grant will be used for a new building.

TK Mining is a division of TK Holdings, which includes construction and blasting companies as well as a staffing firm. TK Mining provides miners and equipment operators for mining projects. Buhrdorf said the firm supplies personnel to projects in New Mexico and West Virginia as well as Canada.

According to the company’s website, TK Mining provides crews for the San Juan Coal Mine near Farmington, N.M., and Tunnel Ridge Mine near Wheeling, W.V.

TK Mining also provides underground coal mining equipment operators and trainers to the Grande Cache Coal Company in Canada, a project the company said has grown from supplying 13  workers in 2011 to more than 80 today.

Buhrdorf said his company helps local miners find work when local mines are closed or projects delayed. “A lot of mines locally are being shut down,” he said. “We are trying to keep these high-value miners utilized.”

King said Hickenlooper was less than forthright in announcing the award of the grant money and that he would prefer support for local mining operations.

“The governor led us all to believe, deliberately I think, that our tax money was going to provide for local development and local mining jobs. But the reality is that the money is going to our people to work in Canada and West Virginia, not here in Colorado,” King said.

“I am thankful to TK Mining for providing jobs for our miners, many of whom are out of work due to misguided state and federal public policies,” King added. But he asked: “Is this really the best value for our tax dollars?”

“I would much prefer that money provided by the taxpayers for economic development in rural Colorado be spent on projects in rural Colorado so that businesses like TK can provide jobs and development here at home.”

Buhrdorf said the grant was justified, since all of the miners and operators TK Mining supplies for projects elsewhere are local.

“We don’t hire people from Canada or the other states we work in. We fly them to the projects, pay for their lodging and they come back home to their families here in Colorado,” he said.