Minas Gerais (mēˈnəs zhərĪsˈ) [key] [Port., = various mines], state (1996 pop. 16,660,691), 226,707 sq mi (587,171 sq km), E Brazil. The capital is Belo Horizonte. Minas Gerais continues to produce more than half of Brazil's mineral wealth. Gold was discovered at the end of the 17th cent. and was mined extensively. The state has long led the country in iron-ore mining and steel production. In the mid-1990s, Minas Gerais, with its low land and labor costs and inexpensive power, experienced the highest industrial growth in South America, making its economy in Brazil second only to São Paulo. Numerous expansion programs have been pursued in the automobile, mining, and manufacturing sectors. Agriculture and livestock also are important to the state's economy.