We had scheduled a visit with Peter Dahlen and the Labor Arbitration Institute…and then the river flooded. Peter suggested that we meet for lunch at the Ole Cafe instead.
The Labor Arbitration Institute has been operating out of downtown Northfield for 20 years, employing five people locally. Almost all of their business is on the east and west coasts, so they’re another of Northfield’s major “exporters”.
Peter said business has been good. With the challenging economic times, people seek quicker and less costly resolution of their issues.
Northfield is a great town, according to Peter, with natural beauty, good schools, historic architecture, and the two colleges combining for great liveability. Peter “followed” his wife’s job at St. Olaf College, and believes that the colleges add a lot to the town’s quality of life and contribute to the community’s progressive values.
Peter said that Northfield’s assets make it a great place for his employees and their families. He added that its proximity to the airport makes it very convenient for a company that does so much business on the coasts.
The challenge for his business in Northfield is the constant search for people with very specialized skills in a relatively small labor market. Peter also finds the price of real estate to be high compared with other communities in the south metro. When asked how the NDDC could better serve his business, Peter suggested the creation of more affordable, sustainable space in downtown.
Peter noted that his business could be located anywhere in the United States. With the high costs and low incomes of local commercial properties, the equity gap in the loan-to-value ratio makes financing development difficult. He said more of a “can-do” attitude at City Hall would help too. When asked about what Northfield could do to retain his business, he said “an enhanced local financial capability”.
Finally, when we asked him how we could increase the quality of life for his workers, he answered “make Northfield more bicycle-friendly”. Hear anyone advocating for bike racks?
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