The Downtown Library as a Regional Draw

The front page story in Sunday’s Strib continued an emerging theme, that arts-based development to attract the creative class may be the key to our economic development future. As I mentioned recently, this has always been a guiding concept at the NDDC. With all the recent attention to this topic, however, it is time to move forward, and quickly, putting words into action.

The Strib article, Building on the Arts, written by one of my heroes, Linda Mack (my meeting of her at a cocktail party about 10 years ago was literally one of the high points of my cultural life) and an old friend, Kristin Tillotson (she once read stories to my young daughters at a garden party at my house one summer…yes, in Northfield), focuses largely on the marketing power of the new cultural spaces created in Minneapolis. The spaces listed are the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Children’s Theater Company, and the Minneapolis Central Library (yes, the library). The article discusses the national attention that these new spaces have earned for Minneapolis, and Minnesota, and the potential attraction of economic development that they may stimulate.

Of particular interest to me, and perhaps a more finely grained exploration of the topic, was the the potential contribution to recruiting efforts that these developments may bring. Former State Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Economic Trade and Development, Rebecca Yanisch, said that the members of the creative economy “are drawn to the quality of Minnesota’s cultural attractions”. Director of Corporate Compensation and Benefits for Cargill, Jill Schulz, said that the arts scene “clearly plays a role in recruiting”. Steve Sanger, Chairman and Chief Executive at General Mills, concluded that the arts “are important assets that we emphasize when recuriting talent from outside our region”.

With the NDDC long advocating that Northfield’s economic future may be found in innovations of the creative class and TIP Strategies suggesting that retaining and returning Carleton and St. Olaf graduates be one of our three economic development priorities, the expansion (and/or enhancement) of the Public Library (downtown, of course) appears to be rich in potential returns for the wise investors. So let’s keep this ball rolling, agree on the possibilities, potentialities and priorities, and conceive, plan and build a library expansion that markets Northfield within the region and catches the attention of the emerging leaders of the creative class.