Why Businesses Leave Northfield: One Company’s Story

Chris SawyerWe received this comment yesterday from Chris Sawyer, president of College City Beverage. The triumvirate decided that we didn’t want this to get lost in the comments, so we decided to make it a blog post of its own. Thank you, Chris, it’s very helpful to have information like this direct from the source, so I appreciate your taking the time to write.

Okay, here we go. This is my first ever blog entry to any website and also one where it directly effects of all of our employees and their family’s to open up a private business decision in a public forum. Grab a “cold” one (preferably a Budweiser if it’s an alcoholic drink!) and let’s go. We only moved a mile and a half away from our previous facility and we are a small symptom of a bigger situation but here goes anyway.

First of all, I think it is great that people in Northfield are concerned over the business climate in our town and are vocal about it on the blogs. Hopefully, the elected officials and staff of this great town read these blogs and see that the “silent majority” are starting to make more noise and may stop listening so intently to the “vocal minority”. The business community must stand up and be vocal! Let’s get away from the morning coffee bitch sessions and do something! Give more power to the EDA and pay attention!

Enough of the soap box and to the nuts and bolts. Why did we move to Dundas? Several factors: Ross, to your point, there was no land available for us. No matter what you say or think, that’s the bottom line. We were looking for 20 acres of land. The city did not have 20 acres in one area(not the cities fault). Where there were 20 acres, the prices were all over the place. You contact someone one day the price is this. Contact them again the price may be that. It is not just a City Hall issue. It could be a landowner issue where the current landowners want to sell there land on one hand and the other they don’t. I don’t know why the published prices changed daily. Ask them. Don’t ask me I won’t tell you who they are.

The landowners that were consistent to work with, we ran into other roadblocks from the city. This isn’t a point your finger at any one thing, it is several issues. In conversations with Al Roder, he says he is trying to change the culture in City Hall to a service organization. Difficult move but a Great Move!!! It’s what City hall is supposed to be since we, as citizens, is what we are paying for. You work for us! I hope he can because currently, people I have talked to (not just us), interpret the actions of the city that the they think they may have a monopoly. The actions of several business’ should send a message that that isn’t the case. Business’ can and do go elsewhere. No matter what you think, Northfield isn’t the only place south of Lakeville to move. Northfield has an outstanding workforce but they are mobile! They can work anywhere. We have people that commute from Stewartville and Eden Prairie.

If a business were to want to move, build, expand, stay in Northfield, a city hall that makes the business’ feel welcome or wanted is top of the list. Not for handouts, but ease to work with. We are scheduled to close on our old building in town this year. The first thing the purchasing company asked was, “How is the city to work with?” I told them it’s getting better so Al, don’t let me down! This proved to me what I’ve heard from several business’ that Northfield has a reputation in the business community of Minnesota that they are difficult to work with. I don’t think that is the intent of the actions. Are they perceived as difficult because they don’t want expansion (wall around the community) or are they difficult because the system is disorganized which isn’t anyone persons fault? Interesting discussion for city staff and business’ so the city may have a better understanding of what business are looking for when they talk to the city. Are all of the ordinances consistent so city staff knows exactly what the council wants or are they all over the place causing a perceived disorganization and lack of vision (difficult to work with). Probably should hire another consultant to look at the situation so council knows what they should do!

In summary of why CCB left to go to Dundas? Lack of land owners willing to sell at the consistent and reasonable prices and other reasons that is not necessary to get into publicly. People that affected our decision are no longer here so there is no need to get into a public debate when there is no reason to defend their actions so we have a better understanding as well. This is a much bigger discussion than just CCB. It is humbling to be a part of the reason for the city to discuss such a big issue and figure out how to be more receptive to business retention, expansion, and recruitment.

Although it may be nice to simplify, there is never one reason why a business does not come to Northfield. Some reasons may be bigger than others. We are still proud of being a part of the Northfield community. It truly is a special place. We have been very active in Dundas in the past as we have in Northfield, and are truly impressed and pleased with the efforts of Dundas city staff, council and commissions, and proud of our new facility there. We will continue to support both communties in the future. The communtiy isn’t that far off from Northfield after all!

After deciding to move our business after almost a year ago, it certainly is interesting to hear people continue to talk about the subject. We moved to Dundas, not Dallas. The school district and county still receive the taxes. The only difference is Northfield does not. We delayed our decision to move to Dundas for a year and a half. Doesn’t seem long but in our situation, far longer than we, or any other business, would want to deal with this.

If it weren’t for the strong efforts of Mayor Lansing and Dixon Bond, the move would have happened long before it did. Thank you to the Mayor and Mr. Bond for all of your work and I hope you don’t think it was in vain. It was truly appreciated! Business don’t want to waste time. Make a decision and move on! It’s simple. Be organized and consistent. If you want them to build the taj mahal, tell them what’s expected and what the costs are. Business don’t care as long as they know up front!

I appreciate that people are concerned why we moved. I always thought we were behind the scenes and people don’t notice us much. Thank you. We have supported this community for 30 years and appreciate the fact that people noticed and seemed to want us here and apparently appreciated what we do. I hope we can be of assistance to get people out of there chairs and do something about the business climate in Northfield, be it landowners or city hall. As treasurer for the Chamber, let’s get some CI land going and quit turning this into a bedroom community! Keep blogging Ludescher!

Blog virgin no more!

Christopher Sawyer
President
College City Beverage

P.S. I don’t think blogs are supposed to be this long so I apologize for that!

Okay, let ‘er rip with the comments!

49 thoughts on “Why Businesses Leave Northfield: One Company’s Story”

  1. Chris’ comment was in response to a discussion about businesses leaving Northfield that got started with comment #16 by Chamber President David Ludescher to Tracy’s Northfield Squanders its Intangible Wealth post earlier this week.

    The following are excerpts from some of the comments that are more directly relevant to this issue of businesses leaving Northfield… posted here for your convenience.

    David L.:

    I think that the implications for Northfield is that if we want to increase our wealth, we need to ensure that governmental policies don’t place impediments in the way of profit sectors when the market exists for the product. When the rule of law prevents capital accumulation, those businesses (e.g. Ryt-Way, College City Beverage) go someplace else, and those communities benefit from the wealth, both tangible and intangible, that those companies bring.

    Larry DeBoer:

    To look at the whole picture Ross, we need to ask why Menard’s chose Dundas over Northfield. Why did Sears locate in Dundas? Why did Keith Lauver leave Northfield for Eagan? Why did Radio Shack leave for Dundas? Why did Speech Gear leave downtown Northfield? Why did Marathon Multimedia leave for Faribault? Why is Coach Crafters leaving Northfield? Why did FMC FoodTech move all of its manufacturing operation to Ohio? Why did Sage Electronics locate in Faribault? Why did Aldi grocery distribution locate to Faribault? There is a lot more than available commercial land availability at work here.

    Julie Bixby:

    Finding out why businesses don’t come to Northfield or leave it is extremely important information. I have been working and doing business in Northfield for nearly 6 years and from my experience Northfield and “the powers that be” are not business friendly. Why does everything have to be a fight? Business owners are constantly asked to do more for the community, which we do, but how often has our city and those who run it offered to be of help to businesses? My parents had a store in Northfield about 20 years ago and had a terrible experience. Things haven’t changed. How sad.

    Christine Stanton:

    David, my question was not directed at you regarding why Ryt-way and College City Beverage left Northfield, but your opinion, along with others, would be nice to hear. I really have no idea why these businesses left.

    Lisa Guidry:

    Ross, I asked Chris Sawyer to respond to that question, and he said he will. It’s time to get the truth from the actual people involved.

    Christine, Post #25 states the same reason why Ryte-Way left Northfield. I called my clients to ask them to make a statement regarding their experience with Northfield, so hopefully they will respond soon.

    Curt Benson:

    Larry, in your post #24 you ask about Sage Electrochromics. I have a very small piece of information on them. Sage moved from New Jersey in the late 1990s, renting space in Viracon’s building by the Faribault airport. They had only a handful of employees. I built some manufacturing equipment for them when they were starting up and got to know a couple of the principals. They were enthused about their unique, new technology. They said they were planning on building a new manufacturing plant but hadn’t chosen a location yet. Naturally, I gave them a sales pitch, trying to get them to consider Northfield. They didn’t like Northfield because it wasn’t close enough to highway 35 and they wanted to be on a big electrical trunk line (I think), that Faribault had, but Northfield didn’t. I thought those were objections that could be overcome and asked if I could have someone from the city talk to them.

    I brought the contact information to the city’s economic development person (now long gone). She said, “Maybe I’ll send them a flier.” I was stunned. “Howabout a phone call or a visit?” I asked. Since I wasn’t satisfied with her attitude, I brought the contact info to someone else on the EDA, who I know is more of a go-getter. After that, I don’t know if Northfield ever talked with Sage, or if Northfield ever made a serious effort to get them here. Maybe a flier was sent. I think opportunities like Sage are few and far between. Here’s what we’re missing.

    Larry DeBoer:

    Thanks for your background, Curt, on Sage. I think the EDA lady was Jill. She loved sending flyers. The city seems to wait for “luck” to stumble upon a business who would like to relocate or build here in Northfield. In the business world, luck takes a back seat to good sound strategic planning to identify customers and develop new ones. But in the world of small town government, there apparently is no incentive to “land” a new customer. Why does it have to be that way?

    Norman Butler:

    Be they out-of-town businesses wishing to establish themselves in Northfield, businesses already here that wish to relocate or expand within Northfield, or local people who simply want to ‘have a go’, they all come up against an entrenched negative mind-set in City Hall – not at all general I hasten to add but very localized in those very few individuals who are in the prime position to support, facilitate, enable but who would rather interrogate, deter, discourage, disable.

  2. In the interest of trying to broaden the conversation and avoid devolving into a bitch session, I thought it would be helpful to include some excerpts from the City’s Economic Development Plan done last year (the entire Plan can be downloaded from the City website here). It’s easy to say “the City should do more”, but exactly what should the City do?

    Despite the considerable time, money, and people dedicated to a community’s financial well-being, industry recruitment remains the linchpin for economic development. Choosing the appropriate target industries can make or break a plan.

    Our approach to identifying industries that provide the greatest potential for success begins with the economic assessment. This assessment (published under separate cover) analyzed demographic and economic factors affecting the region. Our understanding of Northfield’s strengths and potential opportunities was then filtered by our knowledge of economic development trends at the global, national, and regional level. These trends include the continued downsizing and off-shoring of traditional manufacturing jobs, continued growth of the service sector, and the approaching deficit of workers in the U.S.

    A review of Northfield’s employment location quotients reveals that the city’s economic base is more diversified than most communities of its size, with concentrations in manufacturing, education, and health services (see box at right and graphic on next page). These core industries represent the first tier of economic opportunity. This is due to the fact that the community typically already has the necessary components in place (including workforce and infrastructure) to begin effective targeting of the industry. Northfield’s concentration of employment in these sectors suggests a competitive advantage that could be exploited by targeting additional expansion and recruitment of firms in these areas.

    Other sectors may be viable targets despite relatively low employment concentrations because they represent opportunities that have not yet been tapped. In other words, sectors that are underrepresented in a region suggest that there may be room for growth.

    – TIP Strategies Economic Development Plan for Northfield, p. 60; emphasis mine

    So, the consultants confirm the recruitment of new business as the “linchpin” in increasing our commercial tax base, and they advocate a targeted rather than scattershot approach. In addition, the plan continues,

    Clearly, economic development can no longer be thought of as simply a competition for recruiting industrial employers. The future of a community or a region also lies in its ability to retain and attract workers and their families. In light of this, economic development practitioners must encourage opportunities with roots in nontraditional sectors that highlight quality of place. Communities must ensure their survival in the war for talent. Our list of target sectors was expanded to reflect this thinking.

    The following list presents Northfield with immediate opportunities for economic growth. It is also designed to withstand the fundamental shift in the nation’s economy toward consumer services.

    • Logistics
    • Specialty manufacturing
    • Environmental technologies
    • Healthcare/medical
    • Professional/technical services
    • Information technology

    – TIP Strategies Economic Development Plan for Northfield, p. 60; emphasis mine

    I strongly encourage everyone to read the plan, especially the detailed section on target industries. This really is an excellent plan, and we’ll be the poorer in many ways if we don’t use it.

  3. I simply had to come back for this. Thanx Chris!

    If candor was the essential characteristic of Chris Sawyer’s message… then many of you might take heed to the fact that the Mayor is not the Evil Emperor here in Snow-job-ville… at least as Chris’ story unfolded.

    Clearly Chris spoke out in strong support of the Mayor’s effort. What he didn’t do is pull the trigger on the problem or the problem people.

    That trigger might be the “release” on the guillotine cutting off the head of ineptness. I certainly understand why Chris didn’t include pictures or audio tape of the actual persons responsible for the inability to get to a better place… but it must have been someone’s effort or lack of it that kept the deal Lansing and Bond pursued.

    Could this go to the other current mishaps at City Hall – where the outcome seems to be the Council is all over the Mayor for his effort to make things happen… and not Just the freakin’ liquor store.

    Maybe now, finally… here’s a benchmark to measure our elected officials against?

    If you haven’t drive over to Dundas to see the building CCB built for beer… then you’ve not seen what Northfield lost. Sited up on a gentle rise — with plantings and curving drives lead up to the front doors… that open to simple but really tasteful architecture. I can tell you it is a real asset for Dundas, to have been the recipient of this business expansion.

    It’s only Budweiser.. but it’s beautiful.

    Our loss.

    Chris seems to also recognize Al Roder’s efforts to bring change to the force that kept the better outcome for Northfield.

    My sense is, that force has to be staff and or process. Yeah, might also be the farmers owning the land were too greedy. But somewhere the farmer’s very satisfied with the price… and as Chris said… only a mile-and-a-half down the road.

    My question, is why? Do heads have to roll?

    Let’s all hope Chris may open up even more. I heard it also had something to do with moving storm sewers.

    At least we can still drink beer with no import tax.

    victor

    FULL disclosure: I grew up a bike ride away from Grant’s Farm in St Louis.. home of the Clydesdales. dum dum dum da dum dum da dum dummmm… dum

    Not too far from Jesse James’ hideout.

  4. Thanks for your comments Chris.

    Note that Chris emphasized that there were no parcels in Northfield available for their 20 acre need–this is a serious Northfield problem–there is limited industrial land available.

    As a Dundas resident, I am thrilled to have College City Beverage in our town.

    Northfield struggled with Target and Cub food, forcing a smaller Applebee’s, and has inconsistent development along Highway 3–all because of “planning.”

    Part of the problem is the unfriendly business atmosphere, part is the inconsistent “planning” for development, and part is just running out of good industrial land.

    Municipalities want businesses because they are a net gain for the city–they pay more in property taxes than they use in services–while they provide employment. If the business was only paying its “fair share” in tax (enough to cover the services used) would we still want the business?

  5. Chris, I appreciate your honesty, candor, and restraint. It shows integrity. It sounds like there is more than one reason for the “linchpin” in Northfield’s economic development. If the issues you consider private further help Northfield overcome this barrier, I hope you will share it/them with someone who has the power to make the necessary changes. Your comments remind me of the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” In this circumstance, we might ammend that phrase to “It takes a community to support economic development.” Welcome to the wonderful word of blogging! 🙂

  6. In the best interest of all concerned I think it is important to note the following:

    The EDA (Economic Development Authority) has not completed their 2008 work plan. This is something I am still working on. We have an extensive EDA plan that encompasses a great deal of work over a long period of time. Our 12 month plan is simply being reviewed and documented in an orderly fashion so staff can achieve some measurable and obtainable goals and results. The completion of this plan will also address how our partner organizations can asssit us with these goals as well. The assignment of dollars is also a part of this process.

    I hope to complete this work plan this weekend.

    The good news is I have been working with several prospects and moving forward with creating a positive business climate.

  7. Thanks, Chris! Your clear description of the different factors leading to CCB’s relocation helped sort out the private sector issues from what local government can do.

    Your real life account should be put together with all the planning Northfield is now doing (ED plan, Comp Plan, Transportation Plan, various infrastructure plans…) to improve how city regulations and process work in real transactions and guide how city representatives work with businesses. It would just be good business.

  8. For the record…

    Our intern “Colin” is leaving today. This will be his last day at City Hall. He has done some wonderful things for the EDA and the City of Northfield.

    If your free….stop by and wish him well.

    If he is any indication of the students and graduates that are the results of our wonderful colleges, please send me a few more interns!!!

    He is awesome..lets wish him well.

  9. Chris –

    Thank you so much for commenting on this topic of vital importance to our community. In my personal opinion, that is, speaking as Ross Currier, Citizen of Northfield, if business leaders don’t speak, for one reason or another, our processes will be weakened and our results will be lessened.

    You and I have talked about this topic in two different phone conversations (again I was conversing as Ross Currier, Citizen of Northfield, and perhaps also as Ross Currier, Blandin Buddy of Chris “Buck” Sawyer) and I will have to admit that I’m a little confused.

    I thought that Mayor Lansing’s and Council Member Bond’s efforts were within minutes of resulting in College City Beverage locating their new facility (and Victor’s right, when Joe Grundhoefer brought me out there for the first time, I suppose in my role as Executive Director of the NDDC, I almost cried when I saw the finest-kind facility that might have been) in Northfield. I thought that, at least adequate, land had been identified and that it was the city process, at least as implemented by city staff, that led to the breakdown in the final hour. However, it’s probably not the first situation that I may have misunderstood and certainly time passes and perspectives can change.

    Furthermore, you clearly imply, or at least I, as Ross Currier, Citizen of Northfield, sense the implication, that the price was perhaps a moving target, and if that particular business deal detail isn’t nailed down before you invite the lawyers in the room (Sorry, David Ludescher) it certainly can put even the most desired closing at risk. Ah, David Ludescher, Ross Currier, Buck Sawyer and even Adam Smith might have to recognize that those moving target property prices can be an inconvenience of the Free Market System. However, I’m sure all four of us would argue that such an inconvenience doesn’t outweigh its many strengths.

    The experience of inconsistency and the perception of disorganization that business leaders may find in Northfield, as I, once again as a Citizen, think you suggest, can come from hired staff, elected officials, or vocal citizens…or all three. A first step, and at least in my opinion as a Citizen of Northfield, would be having all three groups at least singing off page one of the economic development hymnal: “Mmmm jobs good, mmmm business important, mmmm tax base essential, mmmm business-friendliness critical”. If we start getting disharmonious with some of the more complex tunes, let’s turn back to page one and sing it again, one more time, with gusto, and say with sincerity that it’s one of everybody’s favorite songs. Perhaps I’ve been drinking from the same jug as David Ludescher and being overly optimistic (or more likely simplistic) but if all three groups can at least sing that one song, we’re much more likely to get it together for the “Four-Part Harmony for Business Expansion in Bb” played on altered (or revised) ordinances (and perhaps now I’m speaking as Ross Currier, barely adequate Bass Player in Blue Moon String Band).

    Now on to the 20 acres. Speaking here not merely as Ross Currier, Citizen of Northfield, but basing some of the opinions expressed in this paragraph on information garnered as Ross Currier, Chair of the Planning Commission, I find this to be a topic of particular interest. As Tracy Davis may have said in a previous blog post (and I certainly would never speak for her, as Tracy Davis, Citizen of Northfield, Tracy Davis, Blogger on LG, Tracy Davis, Planning Commissioner, or Tracy Davis, Rug Merchant), us Planning Commissioners watched the needed commercial/industrial acreage grow before our eyes with much fascination. The consultants said 120, the EDA said 220, and the Chamber said NORTHFIELD NEEDS 320 acres.

    At the same time, the Comp Plan consultants, working with city staff, were calculating our land needs and totaling up our inventory of available land. Forgive me, as over-scheduled Citizen, for not digging through the last six months of packets for Ross Currier, over-burdened Planning Commissioner, to find the exact figures, but based on the average of historical land consumption rates and current land consumption rates, we need, at least according to the Professional Consultants, about fifteen hundred acres by the year 2027. On the other hand, adding up the assorted parcels in our “Priority Growth Areas” and “Urban Expansion Zones” (and forgive me if, as Citizen Ross Currier, I didn’t get these terms that I should have, as Planning Chair, tattooed on my forehead, exactly right) results in, what we were loosely referring to at the Planning Commission as “fifteen hundred” acres (Ron Griffith, speaking as a member of the Planning Commission, but perhaps also as a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence from Iowa State, and, for that matter, another Blandin Buddy of Buck Sawyer, probably could give us the precise figures off the top of his curly gray head).

    Needless to say, this was a big “Hmmm” moment for me. Not quite the harmonious “Mmmm” but pretty darn close. (By now, you may be thinking that I’m drinking out of the same jug as Victor Summa and I will reveal our big secret: David Ludescher, Victor Summa and I do have a book club together, where we are currently reading (or rereading for me, Ross Currier, citizen of Northfield and Lover of History Books) Milton Friedman’s masterful “A Monetary History of the United States”, all three drinking out of the same jug that David Ludescher has assured us is Budweiser brewed in St. Louis, home of Northfield’s Lost Millions…okay, not really but I hold onto hope.) At any rate, it would be hard for me, as a Citizen of Northfield or as Chair of the Planning Commission, to consider our situation to be a crisis of land.

    Admittedly, this fifteen hundred acres of available land might mostly consist of three to six acre parcels, and not meet the expansion needs of what was once one of Northfield’s largest employers, however, you could certainly pursue many business opportunities with many pieces of this inventory, all of which is easily and cheaply connected to existing infrastructure.

    And let no one say that Ross Currier, citizen of Northfield, Chair of the Planning Commission, Executive Director of the NDDC, and barely adequate Bass Player in the Blue Moon String Band, doesn’t believe in and isn’t advocating for land for commercial and industrial development. At the risk of confusing Brendon Etter by referencing a post on the NDDC site from July of 2005 (it was, after all, before Locally Grown existed): http://nddc.org/weblog/post/143/, I believe that I have been raising this concern long before College City Beverage left town.

    But to get back to the fifteen hundred acres, and I am getting to the conclusion of this rather long comment…what can I say, Buck’s post is, in my anything but humble personal opinion as Ross Currier, citizen of Northfield, the most inspiring bit of work in the thirteen or fourteen month history of Locally Grown…it would seem that we have at least sufficient land resources to meet many of our economic development needs. Rather than focusing so much of our time, energy and resources on leaping far afield on hundreds of acres well distant from existing infrastructure, let’s make sure that we dedicate every single acre of that fifteen hundred that has potential to commercial/industrial purposes. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb, as Ross Currier, so-called Malcontent and Wannabe economic analyst, by suggesting that now might be a good time not to put too many resources into additional residential development and instead call this a great opportunity to leverage business development from our existing assets.

    Buck and David, one of your very own, that’s right, a Chamber Board Member, talked to me (gosh, was it as Ross Currier, Citizen of the NDDC, Ross Currier, Chair of Blue Moon String Band, Ross Currier, Executive Director of Northfield, or Ross Currier, Friend of Strong Opinions?) on Tuesday morning about one of his businesses and the fact that so much of the surrounding land is undeveloped is not helping his bottom line. He, like me, wants to be sure that we have the necessary resources to take advantage of potential economic opportunities, but he, like me, also thinks we’ll get more bang for the buck, and perhaps do more for our existing businesses, by using a good portion of our time, energy and resources on some of the many in-fill and redevelopment sites that we’ve got scattered around Northfield.

    I won’t reveal his name here, however, you can darn well be sure that I’m gonna grab you guys, him and Joe Grundhoefer and have a quick little economic development strategizing session (over Budweisers, of course) next week at the soiree at the Rueb. See you then and thanks again for a great post.

    – Ross

  10. Chris is being extremely nice to the city with his remarks. I think he is taking his mother’s advice that if you can’t say something nice , than don’t say anything at all.

  11. It was interesting to note your comment, Mr Sawyer. However, not entirely revealing. It should be common knowledge that business decisions are not entirely controlled by City Government or staff, if ever. If a business person was solely controlled by these factors, then I would question their judgment person and motives.

    Often, issues like business relocation become the flogging post for Government regulation or Government Staff when things don’t go the way we want. Here is a clear indication that City officials worked hard to keep the business within City limits. However, it was market forces that drove the business decision to relocate outside of the City limits. This is not a new concept folks, get over it. The division of small government’s entities, constant annexation agreements and varying levels of regulation within adjoining authorities may be good for “localized democracy” but it does little when controlling whether or not a business will relocate….unless of course the common lowest denominator is used as the measuring stick. In this case, it seems the price of land. But hey folks, we live in a capitalist society, market forces are at work.

    Lets take this further, what if the common lowest denominator was tax incentives, or less building regulation, or perhaps the big one “more business friendly City Staff”. Further, “if only Staff were more business friendly then things would change”. Wake up and smell the rose’s. Mr Sawyer, your comment above says that the Mayor worked hard to keep the business in town. So unless City staff under the Mayor were working against him, then we accept that staff supported the City position. That leaves one simple reason; market forces drove you to buy land somewhere else to relocate your business.

    The point, let’s not use these examples to create a planning system that uses the lowest common denominator to attract or keep businesses. High standards should be maintained. This speaks to the issues of safety for commercial buildings or the ability of people to choose their mode of transportation.

    Just a note, for all those folks that find it difficult to comprehend the difference between personal and professional opinions, as a residential tax payer in Northfield, I believe that my “transactions” with the City are just as real as business “transactions”. This personal transaction I have has nothing to do with my professional life, except that I can use my knowledge to make words come out of my mouth. I pay taxes for water, sewer, garage collection, roads etc. I raise this point to remind people that communities are made of both business and residential transactions, and the legal transactions that I have with the City are just as real and important as business transactions. The difference is…I don’t hind behind someone or an organization when I express my opinion.

  12. Hey Peter, I would expect Chris to chime back in here at some point, so please address him directly, ie, not in the 3rd person, eg “It was interesting to note the comment by Mr Sawyer…” but rather “Mr. Sawyer, it was interesting to note your comment…”

    (This is in our Guidelines: “Avoid addressing a person indirectly when disagreeing with them.” )

    And if you know him well enough to call him ‘Chris’ when you see him F2F, then by all means call him ‘Chris’ here. Thx.

  13. Griff, thank you for the reminder.

    Mr Sawyer, Thank you for speaking up and not hiding behind and organization. I apologize for not having insider knowledge of who says what and by whom. But I would like it if you could expand on your comment related to the “system is disorganized”. I noticed you referred to “perceived disorganization and lack of vision”.

    I ask my question from the perspective of also working with communities from a public point of view. If a public entity seeks to work towards a public investment, it can be very difficult when the community does not even know what it wants, (generally speaking) and different songs (Mmm) are sung by different folks. Is this what you mean by disorganized/ lack of vision?

  14. Great article. Chris. Hopefully, readers will heed your advice, “… let’s get some CI land going, and quit turning this into a bedroom community!”.

  15. Yeah Charlene, this is one more thing that you and I agree on…

    Colin is great.

    It’s a shame to let him slip away to St. Louis, even though there IS plenty of Budweiser there for him. In my personal opinion, I think he really has a great understanding of economic development in Northfield. I also think that it should be mentioned that his apparent brilliance may, at least in part, be due to the fact that he’s a graduate of one of Northfield’s top three employers, Carleton College.

    So who’s buying him the first round tonight?

    Ross

  16. A quick plug – at least to me – First Bank Northfield is great for small business.

    I think Northfield probably does not define well what the community wants in the way of businesses.

    First, Northfield has 2 beautiful campuses flanking the town and I wonder how many business promo visits involve tours and lunch at one of the campuses (I would guess zero).

    Second, the downtown is generally attractive but letting a schlocky look spread down highway 3 is a really bad idea. Northfield should work to keep a campusy / historic look to the community.

    Third if distribution type businesses take land not available and are not the high paying type businesses that like campuses then don’t promote to them.

    Fourth – the community has 2 (two , 2 , too) well known colleges with graduates all over MN and the USA yet how often are they used as a resource to attract business (again I would venture – never).

    Fifth – loosen up at let Norman open an Italian restaurant in the church – creative energy in the town is going to attract creative high paying businesses.

    Sixth – after lunch at the campuses bring prospective businesses by the “Free College Interns for Businesses Office” Set up a “Free College Interns for Businesses Office”

    Seventh – be professional and reasonable. Don’t worry if the mayor or someone actually (God Forbid) makes a nickel. Shooting yourself in the foot to prevent someone else from getting new shoes is a bad trait.

    Eighth – again the 2 campuses are huge valuable assets to the town – nothing else Northfield has to offer is even remotely close – so work with them, work with them, work with them. That fact is they can do more to help because of 1) their associations 2) alumni 3) raw human resource power 4) talent . ask them what kind of businesses they would like to see in Northfield and then work with them to attract those businesses.

  17. To Ross, as Chair of the Planning Commission: Ross, could you please open a discussion at the PC, of re-rezoning the land that the movie theatre (now not happening) was going to be on, back to industrial. That zoning was done, IMHO, as a “favor” to a landowner with a prospective sale, and it should immediately go back in the industrial stockpile.

    As I recall, it is quite a good size parcel.

  18. David Henson –

    Some very good ideas in your comment. I’ll respond to one for now.

    At the recent CVB input gathering session, http://nddc.org/weblog/post/894/, several of the attendees mentioned that visitors, whether in Northfield for business or pleasure, ALL seem to want to see the college campuses. In my personal opinion, Downtown (with its historic buildings, “wild and scenic river” and unique mix of restaurants and retail), Carleton and St. Olaf are three substantial, tangible and powerful statements about Northfield’s sense of place and quality of life.

    I think that you and I agree that there’s more economic vitality to be leverage from those three assets.

    – Ross

  19. I would argue that we spend way too much time on “sense of place” and “quality of life”. These are subjective terms which mean different things to different people. As a result, we “invest” in things like the pedestrian bridge.

    Chris’s blog is his real world experience of what Northfield needs if it doesn’t want to turn into a bedroom community. It needs CI land, and efficient processes.

    Those who speak of sense of place and quality of life before the needs that Chris identified speak volumes as to where they want to head. A healthy business environment is the surest method to avoid a bedroom community. Adding community amenities, like pedestrian bridges, ice arenas, and expanded libraries are the surest way to attract more people interested in a bedroom community. The “nice” things couldn’t keep College City Beverage in Northfield.

    How about if Northfield officials make themselves this one promise as a result of College City Beverage’s move? What if the EDA made itself the goal that it will not lose another CCB? That is the type of attitudinal shift that Chris is talking about. Rather than having an EDA plan speaking of “sense of place”, it would be a lot easier to understand and quantify if the EDA just said that it has one goal – not to lose another CBB.

    P.S. Chris, are you still a “college city” company if you are in Dundas? Or, are you “College City AREA Beverage”?

  20. Northfield is a bedroom community.

    A beverage distributor has a set margin and is likely to come if you are cheaper and leave if you are more expensive factoring in freight and time to their market. College proximity is not a likely a major factor in their decision. What Northfield needs is little 3Ms and little Medronics etc who will value colleges and quality of life.

    I think Northfield has more to offer business and more importance to the state (a ton of intangible value) than citizens realize and the community should “up their game” to take advantage of that value.

    Most people in Mpls when thinking of where to go 9/10 times would go to Stillwater over Northfield – the exception would be if something cool were happening at the colleges – which, right now, for all intents and purposes nobody in Mpls would know about.

    The colleges seem a bit closed off to the outside world (probably more related to their historical development than intent). I would guess they would work with the city to hold some type of major event and bring in business and governemnt leaders – tell them Northfield wants a bunch of cool new businesses (they probably don’t even know). I think Northfield should go to the state and say the town & colleges are just as or more vital to the state than a stadium and ask for $500,000,000 bond so Northfield can really “up it’s game.” (the connection to Wellstone should be worth a big chunk).

  21. As usual, everyone is “pussyfooting” around one of the big issues here…
    I think were it not for the issue of who would pay for the storm sewers, (or some such related cost) CCB would NOT have left Northfield.

    How can we ever fix things if we can’t even say what needs fixing?

    Since the Community Development Director said it in public, at a city meeting,( That he’d have to take some blame) I guess it should not be a “secret” that this was an instance where the staff was not serving NF’s best long term interests. As I understand it, no matter how hard the Mayor worked to save the deal, it was messed up by who was to pay some infrastructure costs.

    So you can discuss, all day, whether quality of life is important or not; what
    is really important is to not have staff ever, ever, get into the policy arena. The staff’s expertise is best employed to implement policy, never to make what are closer to policy decisions.

    And that is NOT to slam staff; they have every right to make mistakes, as we all do.
    So what is the business unfriendliness picture in NF? The Chamber tells a retailer that wants to be in the Downtown to go to the highway; the staff messes up on who pays what …AND the taxes downtown are too high for both the building and business owner’s ROI; and that’s because the commercial sales are all averaged together by the assessor, whether it’s a 400K building in the DT, or a 2+million building in the south highway/industrial zone.

  22. Kiffi, so you’re saying that in the final negotiations with College City Beverage (CCB), Brian O’Connell, then Economic Development Director (now Community Development Director) “messed up” by insisting that CCB pay some infrastructure costs when they didn’t expect it? Maybe this is what Chris is referring to when he wrote:

    “… Be organized and consistent. If you want them to build the taj mahal, tell them what’s expected and what the costs are. Business don’t care as long as they know up front!”

    And was the Mayor trying to ‘save the deal’ after negotiations with CCB broke off or was his involvement all prior to that?

    Northfield’s reputation for not being ‘business friendly’ has been a hot topic lately so it would seem this is important to understand, especially in light of Chris’ comments above re: “monopoly” and “ease to work with”.

    I don’t know Brian well. We’ve had him as a guest on our radio show/podcast once and I thought he was very smart and knowledgeable about the topics we discussed. And he’s always been very responsive to my questions re: Mendota Homes/The Crossing.

    Maybe the question now is, since it’s long after the CCB departure, what are current and prospective businesses saying about how they’re treated at City Hall re: development matters?

  23. Kiffi,
    Just for clarification, where was the land? And are we talking water, sewer or road infrastructure? I am trying to put the cost of the land into the equation with regards to the cost of the infrastructure.

  24. Kiffi,
    Just to add to your points above and to provide another perspective on the issue. My experience tells me that it was not the Economic/Planning Directors job to say “no, you do not have to pay your share of the infrastructure costs”, as a way to keep the business in the City limits.

    If the issue was so important to the City, then the City Administrator should have approached the Council, “the legislative body”, the opportunity to say yes or no under the specific circumstances of the development. Other legal issues come into play here that would complete the discussion, but the important point is the Economic/Planning Director did the right thing.

    It was not his position to make “legislative” policy decisions, only the City Council can turn over this type of predetermined cost sharing. In the ordinance, otherwise, Staff would come under tremendous pressure to say yes to everyone that walked through the door and ask for a hand out.

    I believe it is probably an example of a lack of transparency on the decision making process that led to this decision. If the Council was presented the opportunity to decide, then another can of worms would have been opened. It is no surprise however that people who develop land ask for “incentives” from the City. Whether CCB was aware they needed to pay the costs is a red hearing.

  25. Griff: Generally, the perception of “NF NOT being business friendly” has been said ever since I moved here 12 years ago…
    Specifically, Brian O’Connell said , in a public meeting, I guess I’ll have to take some heat for that, or words to that effect.( Referring to CCB moving to Dundas). I cannot remember the exact words, it was some time ago: i remember because I was surprised to hear it stated in a public meeting, and It was such a big issue at the time.
    Also, Griff, it was not a slam at Mr. O’Connell; simply a remembered relevant comment.
    Lastly, I do not know at what point the Mayor was involved. As a businessman with a lot of connections, I would expect him to be involved rather heavily, for some length of time, in this important loss. After all, you cannot put a person in a sealed chamber, because he is the Mayor. I would expect a mayor to work for the good of the town.

    Peter: I don’t know which land; I would suspect Armstrong Road, because of the parcel size, and the fact that the issue of infrastructure
    ( water,sewer) became an issue because it was already there, or basically there. I just heard at the time that deciding to leave NF was, at the end, looking for an easier, perhaps more predictable, development path.
    I doubt CCB was looking for what you term “handouts”; look what they built and estimate what it must have cost.

    To CCB: Dundas’s gain; NF’s loss. I was very impressed by your landscaping, both the grading and planting…an admirable example.

  26. Speaking as Chamber President, CCB’s move to Dundas is economically neutral. As Chris points out, it (they) didn’t move to Dallas. CCB still pays taxes to all of the same entities except now Dundas gets tax dollars that Northfield would have received. As the Northfield AREA Chamber of Commerce, we are glad that CCB stayed in the Northfield area.

    Presently, the Chamber is of the opinion that 320 acres on the west side of Northfield is the best place for business expansion. But, as CCB has shown, Dundas is a viable option. After all, Dundas has the two components that Chris said that Northfield needs – a welcoming attiutude, and available land.

    With regard to the welcoming attitude, Peter raises an excellent point about the staff. The staff doesn’t set policy; they carry out the policies which are given to them. Has the EDA or the Planning Commission directed the staff to make business development a priority? Has either body talked to CCB about how to avoid a loss like this? Has the EDA tried to identify the 120 acres in the consultant’s plan?

    With all due respect to my friends Tracy, Ross, and now, Victor can we stop talking about “intangible wealth”, “incompentent officials”, and “walkability”, and start talking about the components that Chris mentioned – more land, and friendly processes? In your roles as public officials, what are you going to recommend and do to make this happen?

    If Northfield is not interested, please let the Chamber know because apparently Jane Moline and the rest of Dundas is interested. And, in a couple of years, the Chamber president will be a Dundas businessman.

  27. David –

    Jane Moline is going to be the President of the Chamber of Commerce…

    …and we’re going to have someone in that position who can get her head around the importance of an educated and creative work force, friendly and flexible city staff people, and the importance of sense of place in attracting businesses and workers?

    Wow, that is a promising economic development!

    😉

    – Ross

  28. Thank you David and Chris. Let’s move forward and welcome the new prospects and move forward.

    Happy Turkey Day!

  29. I fail to see how “Dundas getting tax dollars that NF would have received” is “economically neutral”. Then what the NF AREA CofC is saying, is that just so business stays in the AREA, everything’s cool!

    So, if the CofC’s desired acreage for biz development (ever growing in size, like Topsy) is all in Dundas…

    Well … everybody cool with that?

  30. First, could someone (preferably Tracy or Ross) explain to me what the importance of “sense of place” means for a business looking to come to Northfield or a CCB looking to expand?

    Second, given that the Economic Development Plan calls for 120 acres for expansion, what steps are in the works to make this become a reality? How much do we currently have for infill and/or redevelopment?

  31. Following up on Chris’s comment about “Dundas, not Dallas”, and Kiffi’s post (#34) re: land development location, does anyone have any thougths about the proper relationship between Northfield and Dundas (and Rice County?) in making available commercial/industrial land?

    Maybe we could have two areas – 120 acres in Northfield (“Sense of Place”), and the other 200 acres in Dundas (“Place of Sense”??). The Chamber gets its 320 acres; Northfield gets its 120 acres; and Dundas … Who is not satisfied?

  32. David,
    In many counties, there is an umbrella group, or the county itself, that works with the communities to create a thorough inventory of sites — especially the major ones that would be needed by a larger employer.
    With that kind of cooperation, a company can get all its preliminary information in one stop. While communities still compete, there is more of a sense of collaboration as officials make referrals and support each other. Realistically, some clients will have such specific needs that only one or two sites will be viable. The idea is that successful development leads to more successful development and eventually everyone will benefit.
    For example, the giant new Medtronic division headquarters is in Mounds View, but the thousands of workers come from all over the area, which will boost housing and retail and business in several communities.
    It would be smart if Faribault and Dundas and Northfield and the county could put together a coordinated strategic plan, including transportation improvements and commercial and industrial sites. A site that straddled Dundas and Northfield could make sense. Economic development is a very sophisticated game and other parts of the region are far ahead of Rice County. Companies don’t care about the rivalry between Dundas and Northfield. They have no interest in where the downtown ends and whether the Q block is in downtown or not. They see this as a seamless region, competing against Stillwater and Hudson and St. Croix Falls and Victoria and Excelsior and a dozen other charming communities.
    It would be good if people could look at the region and see which communities are our direct competition and which might be models as the city moves ahead.

  33. David: In an ideal world ,it should be the immediate regional development, especially since the issue of roads is often so crucial.
    But I have always heard the desire for light industry development here (and therefore the need for that acreage, whatever the number) to be based on the desire to have a tax base that was more diversified, rather than mostly based on residential taxes. NF needs a bigger NON-residential tax base.
    With the general nature of much “industry” changing from heavy (belching smokestacks) to more “intellectual property” (i.e., the Strobel Werner model) Northfield should be considered an ideal location. But I think the idea has to be actively “sold”. The key ? Who is going to do that? City agency or staff ? the Chamber ?
    I would start by putting together the information about all the available scattered sites and devote the resources needed to get someone (any of the above) to work on a MAJOR selling effort. That should bring some info re: general interest in Northfield as that kind of site, nature of interested parties, needs for land , etc.

    Everyone talks about the land; no one talks about the effort needed to get someone ON the land…

    Until a truly solid promotion effort is committed to, I don’t see much point in doing anything but identifying possible industrial land on the Future Land Use Map, in the new Comp Plan.

  34. Just doing some research for a story on restaurant growth in the market and I came across this great piece produced by United Properties, outlining the need for industrial land and the fact that the sector finally is picking up steam. It includes a list of cities and how much industrial land they have. These real estate industry reports are available free each quarter from all the major firms and certainly provide a look at the opportunities out there — and the competition.

  35. Just in case you’d rather consider the weight to be with the Half-full view, rather than the Half-empty, read Dan Bergeson’s 11.24 blog.

    The larger picture that deals specifically with the smaller businesses, is the economic balance in the core downtown.

    Because of the market evaluation numbers, the taxes on the historic district buildings have gone “sky-high”, and are all out of proportion with what a small retail business can comfortably pay; and yet the building is a “business” also, and must pay its costs from its revenues. Just that simple.

    It doesn’t matter whether the landlord adds the tax portion into a single rent figure, or separates it out as an additional cost to the tenant, the income from the rents has to pay for the costs of running the building. Right now a 2000 sq.ft. commercial space, on Division carries a MONTHLY tax burden of over $700. Tax only, that’s zero rent.

    Do you see why both small retail, and landlords are struggling?

    Downtown retail, and building owners, will have an even more difficult time “holding on” if this trend continues. It has already had a severe effect on the ability of small retail entrepreneurs to start businesses in the core downtown. And building owners have less and less to maintain their buildings.

    It will need some major changes, either in business trends or creative ways of handling these old historic districts, to make a positive change.

  36. It seems we have had several discussions about being business friendly and how the downtown needs help. I’m just wondering whether someone could be specific about suggestions for what needs to be done to define and reach those goals.
    Does the downtown need a blanket 10 percent tax cut, to be paid by businesses on Hwy 3, or maybe by the entire city? Does the city need to cut in half the time it takes to process a permit, and what would it take to do that? I’m not proposing either item, just saying that having specific ideas would be a first step toward measurable progress.
    The businesses that left downtown did so in large part because there was no space for them to grow there. The dentists really wanted to stay downtown, and SpeechGear officials looked very hard before choosing its current space. New space isn’t the only answer — the Crossing has space. The problem seems to be that costs are too high for the traffic and population numbers here, and yet there is a feeling that growth is bad.
    It appears there are some conflicting desires that need to be addressed, and some specific goals put in place so people can measure progress — however progress is defined.

  37. A man tries hard to help you find your lost camels.
    He works more tirelessly than even you,
    But in truth he doesn’t want you to find them, ever.
    -From the Somali poem, “The Fire,” by Ali Dhux
    in “The Road To Hell” by Michael Maren.

    A business plan leads to the loan application. The bank needs bids. The bids need architectural and engineering drawings and kitchen design. These various professional drawings need the latest Code requirements to be incorporated into their drawings. These Codes are spelled out by the Building Official.

    The plan to expand The Contented Cow pub began with a walk-through by the Building Official (BO) in late February 2007. Our first big surprise was that we needed to install two more bathrooms upstairs resulting in four handicapped accessible bathrooms in all – despite the fact that the two spaces were to be joined with a staircase. None of the professional questioned this. I did and it took three months of back-and-forth until I questioned it in writing and only then did the BO concede that three bathrooms were enough. Four would have killed the project; three meant that it might just work.

    Then we were told that we had to sprinkle the upstairs and downstairs. Again, the pros shrugged and prepared to amend their drawings. However, I insisted that both old and new Codes (2003 & 2007) be scrutinized together with more detailed measurements of floor area and resulting seating capacity. Sure enough, under both Codes, the BO agreed that we did not have to sprinkle.

    Then in September, the BO said that we had to install a ramp and landing system downstairs in front of the bar to make the whole room downstairs disabled accessible. This would have required seventy five feet of ramps and landings leaving very little room for anyone to sit in the downstairs bar area. We appealed and the State Inspector in charge of handicapped matters concluded, after visiting The Cow and considering ramps, chair lifts, and elevators, that it was all infeasible. Now the BO required us to change the existing ramp from 1 in 8 to 1 in 12.

    If we had not challenged the BO, if we had planned to do all that he said was required (and that the pros initially were not prepared to challenge) it would have added about $100,000 to a project that was ultimately bid at the end of October to cost $250,000 (a full kitchen, two bathrooms etc. would have left enough space for about 40 customers upstairs). Consider the rate of return on investment and cash flow that if you can.

    As much as the cost, the end product would have looked much like the boxes on H3; the restaurant would have had to work very hard (7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, lunch and dinner and probably breakfast too); all in a town of 18,000 people reduced to about 13,000 people eight months of the year. The plan to expand the Contented Cow pub upstairs is, like conforming to the sprinkling , ADA, and ‘process’ requirements in our 100+ year-old downtown buildings, simply infeasible .

    I would like to thank the EDA for the $5,000 grant contribution towards the cost of the drawings and recommend the entrepreneur inquire about the financial assistance available at City Hall as well as the knowledge and resources available to the business person at the NEC, NDDC, Chamber and the Economic Development Director in City Hall.

    This fair city, this jewel in the crown of Minnesota, will bumble and stumble along, losing businesses or seeing them stillborn (9 months later in the case of The Cow), unless and until we realize that it’s not the economy stupid, it’s the politics; and it’s not the policies (or the Codes), it’s the people.

    We all need help to start and grow our businesses. Indeed we are required (and duty-bound) to seek it. We just hope that we will meet someone who will sincerely help us to find our camels.

  38. Sorry I missed responding, Ross, (#31) but I have not announced by plans regarding presidency, I think it is too early to start campaigning, and I know that Chris Sawyer has an excellent organization so I would probably have to fling mud, etc. etc. My chances will improve if I can get Dundas to caucus in early January.

    I lend my support to the idea of Northfield working with Dundas to present the most attractive alternatives to our area businesses. It really comes down to tax dollars–what Northfield gives up is Dundas’ gain and vice versa. But it would be better to lose to each other because our community does gain when businesses locate and grow here.

    I don’t think we should be sharing with Faribault–they already have beat the pants off of us–they have an excellent Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Corporation (I own one share).

    What we should be doing is positioning Dundas and Northfield to go WEST–if we don’t, Rice County is going to start developing (and competing with the municipalities). Of course companies will want to be located on the freeway. We need to figure out how to make that work out the best.

    Norm, I feel your pain–you have to become a legal expert just to understand what is going on and to protect your interests.

  39. Norm: Would you care to comment on what this whole ten-month SNAFU cost you? You said at the end it would have been an extra 100k, but what about all the times you had plans redrawn, kitchens refigured by the designer, etc … to say nothing of your own time and anguish.

    And I do believe anguish is NOT too strong a word.

    p.s. and why would you still have to have done more ramps in the lower Cow when the state ADA guy said you didn’t? I thought the state was the ultimate last word?
    If the state reviews and gives an opinion, I was under the impression that overruled the local “interpretation”.

  40. Kiffi: About $20,000 plus ten months without a tenant.
    The State inspector gave his ‘staff opinion’ which I understand is not binding on the BO except insofar as the BO and I agreed to abide by the State inspector’s opinion. There are other types of ‘opinions’ that can emanate from the State which are more (or less) binding on the local BO. I cannot recall what they are and cannot be bothered to dig through the books to find out. You are welcome to borrow them (about 25lbs in all). I think I’ll donate them to the NDDC and inflict on Ross the unenviable task of searching for chapter and verse (roars of hysterical laughter) especially the one about the local Board Of Appeals (now rolling on the floor, fit to burst, tears rolling down my cheeks).

  41. Ah yes, the Board of Appeals … What can we deduce from the fact that the Rental Board of Appeals came through to the council but the building code BOA has not?

    Maren Swanson (city attorney) remarked that she and Brian O’C were checking with the state as to the response on the state’s end from a local BoA… I had thought that was all spelled out in the statute/administrative rules, whatever.

    Are we just getting paranoid if “we” think that one is more important than the other to the staff? and to the city council?

    How long do you continue to lobby before you just consider your case made, and then “let the chips fall where they may”? Or in OKCorral-ease, “who’ll be the last man standing”?

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