The City of Northfield has hired T-I-P Strategies out of Austin, Texas to prepare an Economic Development Plan for the EDA. I have attended almost every EDA meeting over the past two years and, based on my experience, I offer the following Economic Development Plan.
1. Increase the Financial Resources available for Economic Development in the City of Northfield. The city administrator for Winona really impressed me when he spoke at our March forum and said, “My job is to bring money to Winona, the Council’s job is to decided how to spend it”. He has won hundreds of thousands, no millions, of dollars in grants for job creation, business expansion, and bridge building, as well as bike trails, art centers, and history museums, for Winona. There is a real opportunity for leadership in this area in Northfield. Our goal should be to have Northfield secure the highest per capita level of economic development resources in the state.
2. Secure Land for Economic Development Opportunities. We don’t have to rush out and buy up large tracts of land but we do need to assure that we have sufficient land resources for the continuing growth of our tax base. The Mayor has appointed three very sharp financial types to the EDA this year. They know how to get maximum leverage out of assets without assuming unreasonable risk. Let’s give them the authority and the resources to achieve this goal.
3. Go for the Maximum Annexation Allowed by State Law. Northfield has been too concerned about being “nice” to its neighbors when it comes to annexation. The State of Minnesota has defined what is right and reasonable; nice is too vague to guide policy. Nice has driven up the cost of our housing, limited our creation of new jobs, and undermined the health of our community.
4. Assure that the Necessary Infrastructure is in Place to Effectively Accomplish #s 2 and 3. This probably seems like a no-brainer but it’s no small task to make sure that the infrastructure is there at the right place, at the right time. This must always be one of the top priorities for city staff and they must know that they have the support of the elected and appointed officials.
5. Address the East-West Transportation Issue. Northfield is very successful at North-South transit: we’ve got the river, the rail and the road. However, the river, the rail and the road create challenges for our East-West travel. Our largest employers have been expressing their concern for years, our housing developers have been raising the issue of bottlenecks, and our police chief talks of the challenge of getting emergency vehicles from one side of town to the other. This is another leadership opportunity. The EDA should make a decision on a top East-West transportation project, recommend it to the Council and follow up until it is implemented. They will have the Chamber, the NDDC, the NEC and the NIC vigorously supporting their efforts.
These five things will have a powerful positive impact on economic development in Northfield without the distracting complexity of additional blue sky brainstorming. It will be more than enough work to keep the EDA busy for many years and, if successfully implemented, it will give the members a meaningful sense of accomplishment and provide a true service to our community.