Posted by: Dan Bergeson | November 24, 2007

Northfield’s economic brew glass: half empty or half full?

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There’s a lot of consternation right now about Northfield’s economic climate and short-term future. Are we seeing a gain in tax revenue or a loss? If it’s a gain, is the growth driving it as robust as it could be? If it’s a loss, is that due to the vagaries of the market or is there a more direct cause that can be identified in the actions of people or organizations? There’s a lively debate occurring about the relative value of encouraging the expansion of the commercial/industrial base or expanding the retail and service sector. Which strategy can be accomplished more quickly? Which one requires the greatest commitment of public investment?

I’m not going to comment here on which of these I might favor or what kind of mix of efforts might work best in the short term, although I certainly have opinions. Most of the recent nattering by area nabobs has focused on how bad things are or soon will be and I can’t deny that’s usually my outlook. But since it’s Thanksgiving, I wondered if it’s possible to find anything on the Northfield economic landscape to feel good about.

What if we tallied a list of new and expanded businesses in the area not over the last 12 months, but over several years? Yes, it’s true that College City Beverage moved to Dundas and that Coach Crafters is moving to Florida. It’s also true that Division Street Dentists left downtown (but stayed in Northfield) and Community Resource Bank took 90% of their operation out of downtown (but stayed in Northfield).

But look at all of the expansions that have occurred or are in the process of occurring in the city. Bierman’s Home Furnishings and Floor Coverings opened a second store so that their flooring business could be supported better. Allina Clinic expanded their footprint to accommodate broader specialization and more customers. Northfield Montessori built a spanking new facility to more than double the number of students and families they serve. Speech Gear moved because they needed more square footage as they added jobs and moved into a larger building. Tires Plus was forced by circumstances into relocating (within the city), but clearly could have done so several years earlier as their business grew.

Cannon Valley Printing stayed in place, but added an addition to support the growth in their business. Rob Martin’s Farmer’s Insurance agency changed locations and shifted from a leased office model to an owner-occupied one. (There have been numerous businesses that have gone to this model which I think is a a sign of a healthy market). First National Bank of Northfield is building a branch bank and Cannon Valley Vet Clinic is remodeling their facility. In addition, the principals of that business, the Stroebel-Werner Partnership, are investing millions in an pharmaceutical manufacturing plant on the premises. Northfield Hospital, Three Links Care Center, and the Northfield Retirement Center have all added extensively to their campuses.

My unscientific survey tells me that the list of new and expanding businesses is longer than the list of closed businesses or those that have relocated outside of the city. The time to send up the flares is when this ratio is reversed.

One really has to take the long view when assessing whether or not a market is growing, stagnant or declining. It’s challenging to do this in the midst of transitions which involve geographic shifts one doesn’t want. There’s the emotion of the moment and the prognositication that there will be a domino effect amongst the remaining businesses. That certainly is possible, but is by no means certain and the best course of action in my view is to fill the gaps and continue to work toward making the overall business climate as healthy and strong as possible.

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Responses

  1. Great post, Dan. Kiffi commented about it here:
    http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/archives/2682/#comment-32162

    and I added a link to it.

  2. I am so excited to hear your “Thanksgiving” perspective.
    Both the College City site and Coach Crafters on your “left us ” list, will soon have new tenants that will not only add jobs but create new ones. The investment in Northfield continues and we all should focus on the positive.

    I am also excited and proud to say as Chris did from College City. It is Dundas and NOT DALLAS.
    My staff and many from the Northfield location still live and work in or near Northfield.

    Again…thanks for noticing the good things!

  3. In regards to your glass of “economic brew”, remember that the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It simply has a capacity to hold more “brew” than it presently contains. Lets hope for ways of getting more “brew” into the glass and not be pouring it out of the glass.


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