When Northfield gives a business a warm welcome, is this what the business experiences?
The current Comp Plan Revision Process has raised an issue that has long lingered beneath the surface in Northfield. Chamber President David Ludescher has shared his concern that some of the Draft Development Principles based on citizen input might not be considered friendly by the business community.
David’s goal, that Northfield is friendly to business, supportive of job creation, and recognizes the importance of a growing tax base, is an important one. However, what exactly constitutes “business-friendliness”. I was thinking of a warm welcome and look what I got. Furthermore, who is responsible for this friendliness? Finally, will well-worded Development Principles and $1.50 get you a business-friendly community or just a cup of coffee?
If I were to go out on a limb, and offer my own idea of business-friendliness, and perhaps over simplify, I would summarize it as having two components: the presence of tools necessary for business and the absence of obstacles to economic development. In my mind, necessary tools would include a good transportation system, safety from criminal activities, adequate to exceptional utilities, including the communication network, some basic level of freedom to create and market products, and a sufficient mix of financial resources to realize the business’ vision. Unwanted obstacles might consist of inadequate infrastructure, limited resources, misguided or overzealous or arbitrary enforcement and requirements that simply are not feasible, and, perhaps most important, a bad attitude.
Certainly, city staff has much responsibility for the business-friendliness. In today’s Northfield News, City Administrator Al Roder described the economic development staff as the front door to our community. It may make a difference if the first thing that visitors read is “Welcome” or “Please Wipe Your Feet”. Theoretically staff is only implementing the vision of the Mayor and City Council. Our leaders certainly need to be aware of the experiences of businesses with the City of Northfield. Perhaps due to David’s concern about the opinions of citizens shaping the community’s development goals, lately I’ve been wondering about how much responsibility the people of Northfield bear for the business-friendliness of our community. Perhaps at the very least, the citizens set the tone.
Some economic philosophers, and I won’t mention any names, tend to view the citizens as mere consumers, shaping the economy purely through their decision-making on product purchases. I, however, am considering citizens in their roles as capital investors. After all, their taxes are part of the sources by which a community builds its infrastructure. By speaking for or against swimming pools, art centers, public libraries, highway upgrades, hockey rinks or business parks, the citizens can have at least some influence over investment decisions that may or may not lead to the creation of good-paying jobs and a vigorously growing tax base. I think that this role may be the focus of David’s concern, he is urging that citizens’ input should ideally lead to what he considers to be the type of investments that will hopefully foster economic vitality.
But I want to return to setting the tone. There are seven people on each of the City Council, Economic Development Authority and Planning Commission, for a grand total of 21. That’s out of 18,000 some people in Northfield. If the people of Northfield want our community to be more than a bedroom community, if they want a balanced portfolio of investment in our town, if they want the creation of more good-paying jobs, and if they want to increase the supports for our tax burden by growing the business sector, that will help set the tone. The Planning Commission heard those messages from the public at the input gathering sessions. Apparently David didn’t hear that message. Maybe it’s time to turn up the volume.
Locally Grown has quickly established a reputation for being a noisy place of opinion sharing. Please let David know what you think constitutes “business-friendliness”. Tell him, and us, and our leaders, and each other, who you think is responsible for this friendliness. Finally, let the community know what you think we should do to make Northfield more business-friendly. We all need to hear it.