Outgoing Chamber president David Ludescher: frustrated but hopeful; me, too.

David LudescherNorthfield News managing editor Jaci Smith blogged earlier this week about outgoing Chamber of Commerce president David Ludescher’s speech at the annual Chamber dinner a few weeks ago.

(I wasn’t there. The photo of David is from a comp plan meeting last year.)

Jaci wrote:

So, what did Ludescher say that was so outrageous? That Northfield isn’t the most business-friendly place in the world. That not nearly enough local businesses support the Chamber, and that the community believes erroneously that the Chamber exists to serve the whole community, not just the Chamber’s members. That even city leaders neglect to think about business in their plans. He made his point with several comments that could be — and were by some — construed as sharp, such as:

  • saying that if parents thought an after-prom party was such a great idea they should pay for it themselves instead of asking the Chamber to foot the bill;
  • accusing those who weren’t Chamber members of “milking the Chamber cow” while refusing to join the organization;
  • saying that it was ironic that the city’s transportation task force has a member who represents the interests of those who bike but no one who represents the interests of the trucking industry.

David has a guest column in today’s paper titled: Business needs bigger role.

During 2007, nearly every outside observer who commented on the Northfield business climate said that Northfield is a difficult place to do business. As the only organization solely dedicated to improving the business climate in the Northfield area, the Chamber needs to demand to be a participant in important decisions… In perspective, 2007 was, in many ways, a frustrating and disappointing year for me personally, because I had sought to accomplish so much more. The message I leave with you is that 2008, and the years to come, are filled with hope. 2007 has taught me that the Chamber has a difficult, but nevertheless sure and certain mission, in which we can place our hope.

I’m not a member of the Chamber, even though I’ve been operating a sole proprietorship business here in Northfield for 8 years. No one has ever asked me to join, explaining what the benefits would be for someone with my type of business, or how my membership would benefit the overall community.

Plus, there some things that bug me about the Chamber that, as I think about it, have contributed to my lack of interest in joining:

  • In the 13+ years that I and my colleagues have spent creating and maintaining a vibrant online culture here, one that includes businesses, no one from the Chamber has ever publicly or privately acknowledged it that I know of.
  • In the 13+ years that I’ve moderated online discussions here in Northfield, Chamber President Kathy Feldbrugge has virtually never participated.
  • I’ve attended many Chamber events over the years and taken hundreds of photos for both Northfield.org and now Locally Grown. I’ve blogged about dozens and dozens of Chamber business members over the years. No one from the Chamber has ever thanked me.
  • The Chamber’s web site has always sucked. There’s never any news on their news page. If there was, there’s no RSS feed to subscribe to it. There are few photos on the site, and not one photo of a person. Not one. No board member photos, no staff photos, no member photos. There’s no mention of the most vibrant, geographically-based blogosphere in the country.  Other than their community calendar, the Chamber site is a dead brochure.

    Likewise, the Chamber’s Convention and Visitor Bureau website. Why not feature the Northfield Entertainment Guide (NEG) there? It’s the best thing going to show visitors the vibrancy of the town’s  happenings. Why not grab the RSS feeds from ArtOrg, the NAG, Northfield.org, and many other organizations in town and display the feed headlines in the sidebars to show visitors what’s happening?

    In short, the Chamber’s websites are 1999 vintage in a town that’s as Web 2.0-savvy as any in the country.

This past year, I’ve really appreciated David Ludescher’s willingness to engage in public online discussion of issues, both business-related and otherwise. His participation has been a breath of fresh air, even though I disagree with him sometimes. Will the new Chamber president, Jeff Hasse, and other board members do likewise? I hope so.

(We’ve said it many times here and we say it on our About page: “Many newspapers publish editorials where the senior editorial staff collectively author opinion pieces. We don’t do that. The opinions we express are specific to each of us, not a collective “Locally Grown” voice. Expect to see us disagreeing with one another.” So the views above about the Chamber are entirely my own. I have no idea to what extent Ross and Tracy agree or disagree, nor have they seen this blog post before any one else.)

103 thoughts on “Outgoing Chamber president David Ludescher: frustrated but hopeful; me, too.”

  1. Tracy,

    I think you just stated it perfectly!

    Here’s to change. Change is good.

    I would love to participate in an information session. I hope one gets scheduled after the “change of command”. It is a good way for the new president to meet his public, and get a feeling towards the opinions of the business community.

    It will be up to them however, to determine the scope, either chamber member only, or public.

  2. Hayes: I do like your idea of an informational fair for non-members.

    Tracy: As for your statement that that the Chamber doesn’t represent small businesses or the independent retailer, I would point you to Mary Rossing who just joined the board. She’s not only a member but is giving of her time on a volunteer basis. PRESENT PERFECT, PRESENT PERFECT, PRESENT PERFECT.

    Everyone: Please remember that my comments were directed to the Chamber members telling them why we should be hopeful. I was telling them that we need to change some of internal attitudes if we want to be more successful. It was not intended to be a whining session addressed to the general public.

    The greater Northfield area needs business – maybe now more than ever. I think that we can all agree upon that. Now, how do we make it happen?

  3. David,

    I would hope the Chamber might have one for members as well. The Historical Society is a member and I would LOVE to be involved in a session. As I have questions and concerns that I would feel more comfortable voicing there than on LG.

  4. Hayes: I’ll do you one better. Any Chamber member should feel free to contact Kathy directly, and have a one on one session.

  5. That would be good. But I think maybe a Chamber member session might be good so then other members can voice their questions/concerns at the same time. Then more people can be involved.

  6. David, I agree that Mary will be an awesome addition to the Chamber board, and I know she’ll be offering a “downtown retailer” perspective in her inimitable style. People like Mary are an inspiration to all of us – she’s extremely busy as the owner of a downtown retail business, plus she does extensive volunteer work. Mary’s on a roll now – in addition to being on the Chamber board, she’s also President of the NDDC this year.

  7. Lest anyone should forget – I am a small downtown businessperson who is not only giving a monetary contribution, but a personal contribution. The Chamber is more than an organization; it is an attitude.

  8. I would just like to clarify that Girls Nite Out is not a Chamber Event. The idea for the event had been floating around for years, and while we decided to make it happen at a retail committee meeting, the GNO committee decided that it would be a business sponsored event. Meaning the businesses participating in the event would be the sponsors. The monetary sponsors for the event are The Grand, NDDC and First National Bank.

    I have been trying to follow all of these posts and there is just too much to address. I do want to address the comment that a chamber member might blacklist a non-chamber member. I sincerely hope that is not true. It makes me sick to think that businesses and people would do that to one another. If we want more businesses to join the chamber, all the more reason for chamber members to visit the non-chamber businesses. Give them your business, get to know their story, find out what can be done differently to gain their membership. There is no need to get defensive and angry, just simply listen to their thoughts and try to do what you can to make the changes needed so everyone feels a benefit can be made. Times are tough for everyone, people want to know exactly where their hard earned money is going. For all involved getting angry at the chamber or chamber members getting angry at non-chamber members, it just seems silly.

    Can’t we all just get along and continue to keep Northfield thriving and growing without all this debate?!
    -says the young 25 year old who’s naive in thinking the world works this way!

  9. David L.

    Your suggestion that you can even do one better by steering Hayes directly to the Chamber ED is just the lack of insight I feared. Following your suggestion assures that Hayes concerns go into a black hole and are not addressed. Unless members and non-members have a forum to speak directly to board members the filter continue to exists and nothing is seriously addressed.

    Hayes – keep advocating for a member/non-member/board forum to open dialogue. It is needed.

  10. Hayes and Adam, be assured that there are board members listening and that are interested in affecting change. In fact I think that is one of the reasons David Ludescher put so much energy into the organization this past year–he thought that his ideas and leadership could make the chamber better. And the end of the year comments reflect his hopes for better things ahead.

    All of your points, however also tell us that there is more work to be done. But this is why any of us join forces with an organization. If there is no need for new ideas or change, then why would I want to be involved with any of the groups that I have been–the Historical Society, the Arts Guild, the NDDC, the Chamber…if I didn’t feel they needed/welcomed my input then what would be the point of taking on a leadership role?

    By being involved and active we can all work to make things even better. If that means working on a project, pitching in on an event with time or money, advocating for business at the city, county, or state level, or shopping locally (no, noone is boycotting non chamber members) then do what you can.
    Ally is such a fine example of a young leader who is willing to put her time and energy into making things happen!

    As to a forum on what we can do better, what might be a good format, but maybe just some more personal conversations are the most effective. Sometimes I need to hear something twice before I am compelled to act, or know how best to proceed most effectively.

    To those of you who are business owners but not members of the chamber yet, I hope that we can engage you in conversation and figure out what might compell you to join. I have joined other organizations at various times just to show my support of what others are doing although I may not be actively involved at the moment–I believe the Historical Society, Wings, and the Arts Guild are vital parts of my community, and I don’t look at what “benefit” they give my business directly. I joined the chamber after my business could “afford” it (it’s a deductible business expense) but the compelling reason was so that I could accept chamber dollars. I get a few 100 dollars of these redeemed at Present Perfect each year I also enjoyed serving on the retail committee. In the meantime, throw some dollars or time toward some events when you can.

    And Griff, I am so sorry you feel underappreciated by the chamber. I am part of the chamber, so can I officially thank you?? Thanks for all you do for the vitality of our community! Really.

  11. Hey, late to join the discussion. Jeff Hasse! That’s great! Love that guy. Let’s learn more about him from what I know: One year older than I am, NHS graduate, kind, likes to laugh, works hard.

    At least that’s what I remember about him. That’s the scoop on Hasse, folks.

  12. Mary and David L, I appreciate your appreciation. And your willingness to participate in this discussion makes me feel much better about continuing to take photos of Chamber-related events… and, gasp, open to the idea of becoming a member!

  13. As for one-on-one conversations, I’d have to agree with Hayes and Adam. If the Chamber’s problems are viewed by some as systemic, it would be much better to have a group forum or two where the issues can be addressed, as those giving the feedback can hear and react to what others are saying, either agreeing or disagreeing.

    All of this is even trickier if people are unhappy with Kathy’s performance. Like any board, Chamber board members have to publicly support their executive director yet be open to/seek hearing criticisms of her, knowing that many people would be unlikely to voice those criticisms to her F2F.

  14. Mary Rossing has said it much better than I. I have been frustrated by my ability to carry out the mission of the Chamber. But, I am hopeful because my presidency has caused me to see the worthiness of our mission. Like any organization, the Chamber could and should do much to improve. But, we should never doubt how important our mission is for the overall vitality of the Northfield area.

  15. Interesting comments from Hayes, Adam, Patrick, Tracy and Mary R.

    Back in comment #44, David L. says, “We exist to serve those who pay the expenses of the Chamber. Our mission is to create a healthy business environment in the greater Northfield area.”

    So on the one hand, Chamber is for members, not for the benefit of all businesses. On the other hand, Chamber’s mission IS for healthy business environment, which DOES benefit all businesses.

    Patrick wrote,
    it would behoove you to foster a more positive public relationship between the Chamber and the public and non-Chamber businesses. / Instead, I hear you bemoaning that your job “is not easy in a town with so many diverse opinions,” complaining that non-member businesses “milk the cow,” and deriding the public for an “entitlement mentality” and stating that “I don’t know if the general public understands that you can’t just legislate a nice downtown; someone has to pay for it.”

    It sounds as if the (perhaps Republican-leaning?) Chamber had a very Republican-leaning leader.

    David had commented in this thread of how important it has been to have legislators like Ray and Tom, but we also know that some businesses have complained about the lack of spending for transportation that had been associated with Pawlenty and the previously split DFL MN senate and GOP MN house.

    If you’re in the trucking business, or if you pay for shipping via truck, it doesn’t help to have bad roads. If you’re in the business of road construction and government slows its funding in that area, that hurts your business, even if you’re a Chamber member and a Republican. Bad roads help tire stores and towing companies, but perhaps trickle-down and trickle-through really slows or fails to occur when people think primarily of lower taxes and not of the larger picture.

    Former Chamber Businessman of the Year award-winner Tom Neuville had been very critical of Growth and Justice founder (and former Lieutenant Gov. candidate) Joel Kramer. But among the ideas that Kramer and Growth and Justice urged us to ruminate about is the idea that sometimes, to have strong long-term growth in the economy, we might consider raising taxes on those most able to pay…. but NOT on business. Remarkably, when Kramer came to town few years ago and spoke at the Senior Center, he talked about how perhaps we should find ways to advocate investing in education and infrastructure while remaining business-friendly.

    This sounds interesting to me, but perhaps not to David L. or Republican legislators (unable to think outside the box? More interested in tax cuts and short-term bottom line than long-term vision?).

    So again, I repeat my earlier point: In a DFL-leaning town, the Chamber (certainly under David L.’s leadership) seemed to have a perception problem. Waiting till the year after David was their President, and giving Tom a “thanks for your many years of strong legislative advocacy” award instead of Businessman of the Year award might have helped.

    Maybe it’s inevitable that organizations get flavored by the politics of their leaders. Some organization leaders strive to rise above their own partisan leanings in order to represent the greater interests of the organization. And maybe some of the perception problems for the Chamber are rooted, not solely in the personality and politics of it’s outgoing leader, but also in other elements or long-standing trends among its members.

    But again, it’s good to see many good ideas voiced here by folks like Adam, Hayes, Mary R. and others.

  16. Being not very clubbable, I also realize that I like to ‘belong’ to and support those organizations that get things done and are ‘friendly’. This is the difference between the Chamber of Commerce (the Club) to which I do not belong and the NDDC to which I do. BTW, I hasten to add that I refer not to individuals here but to the organizations.

    A few years ago I sent to the Chamber the Gift Certificates that I had accepted and collected at The Cow and Chapati and asked for reimbursement (as per the print on the certificates). I was told that only Chamber members are reimbursed. I pointed out that this was not stated on the Gift Certificate. I did not receive the reimbursement. This response did not urge me to join the Chamber in order to receive the benefits of accepting Chamber coupons.

    For a couple of years now the Chamber has organized an annual pub crawl. The posters and publicity mention only those bars/pubs which are Chamber members and they are the only ones on the official itinery. This mentality, this ostracism, does not entice me to join the Club; nor does saying that you are in business to serve members only prompt me to become one.

    The biggest challenge facing downtown building owners and THEREFORE businesses is the obscene level of property tax increase over these last few years. Who cares? Who acts? Who lobbies? The NDDC.

    In its relatively short life, the NDDC has made a tremendous difference to the energy and optimism of our downtown…and the pivotal differences between these organizations is their leadership and fighting spirit – and ironically its lack of a sense of entitlement: Apart from its membership fees, the Chamber (aka CVB) receives $100,000+ lodging tax per year, year in year out, no questions asked. Compare this with the grilling the NDDC and the NEC receive at their annual review at the EDA. And lest it be forgot, the NDDC was born out of a chronic disappointment with the Chamber in terms of serving the needs of our threatened downtown.

    The Chamber is an organization not an institution and as such should always be in fear of its life. It’s patronizing to say that non-members milk the Chamber Cow: Its arrogance to expect that all businesses should be members: It is fear that motivates many to keep anteing up every year, and it is naive to insist otherwise.

    Would the passing of the Chamber make a jot of difference to the Northfield business community as a whole and the downtown in particular? As it is currently constituted, focused and operated I think not (except wrt the $100,000+ lodging tax).

    When will organization leaders realize that ‘absence of stick’ is not the antidote to ‘stick’? So, where’s the carrot? What benefits, tangible, salivating benefits for myself, my businesses or our community are offered by the Chamber in return for my membership fees? (btw for restaurants the fee is based on the base fee plus $x per chair; and this adds up).

    To move forward, the Chamber must ask itself what it does and for whom (local business people in general, club-members in particular, the community as a whole, outside businesspeople and visitors, etc) and be honest about whether or not it can be done better and cheaper eg a super-duper website and a kiosk on Bridge square.

  17. Norman: Chamber dollars and free advertising for Chamber events are two of the advantages you would get for your Chamber membership. Do you think It would be fair if you got these advantages and other businesses had to pay for their own share and yours?

    I think one of the Chamber’s accomplishments over the last year, for which I can’t take much credit, is how much better the NDDC and Chamber are cooperating for the downtown’s benefit. Kathy, and especially Ross, have worked hard to present a more unified approach for helping downtown businesses.

    The NDDC has matured to the point where they expect, and are willing to justify, why public dollars should be spent on their mission. There are a fair number of non-downtown businesses who wonder why the downtown should get public money, and they don’t. That is why the EDA has, rightly, required some accountability on the public monies.

    P.S. I don’t believe that the Chamber receives any of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) money, except as necessary to cover administrative expenses.

  18. Oh, and David, by the way, how I think it’s done for bloggers: If you have a blog, you can see incoming links (where people talked about you via link) on your blog dashboard.

    Also, if you want, you can monitor traffic for keywords. The Vodpod creator, Mark Hall, is in California. He contacted me within minutes of my blog post on Vodpod.

    Mark Hall said on Holly’s blog

    I’m the founder of Vodpod, and keep track of comments about the service on blogs, twitter, etc.

    Bloggers don’t think “phone.” They think mentioning someone is an honor. Honestly. IMHO.

  19. David L,
    Read my post again. Believe me, I am well aware that business owners can have one-on-one time with Kathy. My point is – what comes of that one-on-one attention? From my observation and past experience, very little. The conversation is always polite but results in no action.

    Griff made my point more directly.

  20. Here is the city code on the Lodging tax:

    Sec. 74-67. Use of proceeds.

    (a) At least 95 percent of the gross proceeds obtained from the collection of taxes pursuant to this article shall be used to fund a local convention or tourism bureau for the purpose of marketing and promoting the city as a tourist or convention center. The remainder of the proceeds may be deposited in the city’s general fund or in any other fund as may be designated from time to time by the city council.

    (b) The city council may establish or join in the creation of a local convention or tourism bureau, which shall administer the funds appropriated to it for the purpose of marketing and promoting the city as a tourist or convention center.

    (c) Annually, prior to the first regular meeting of the city council in September, the convention or tourism bureau shall prepare and submit to the council for its approval a budget of the bureau’s activities for the next fiscal year.

    (Code 1986, § 140:80)

    Does anyone have any notes from the last September 2007 CIty Council meeting, in which the CVB presented what they are doing with these monies?

    Kiffi, I know you are at nearly every city council meeting. Can you possibly shed some light?

    Also, do we seriously have ANY convention space in this city? I know we have a couple of meeting rooms, but nothing too terribly large, unless you count spaces at the colleges.

    3% seems like a lot of coin… Because these are public tax dollars, is this budget public information, and if so, where do I send the FOIA request to review it? City Clerk, or directly to the CVB? I would be curious to see what the math is on this. Figure $2.25 per room night ($75 room average), times the number of rooms and stays per month. I think there are 5 hotels in town, but I am not sure of the total number of rooms. I am just wondering about what the monthly tax amount coming into the CVB is, and if it is enough to cover the CVB staff, website, maps, and advertising.

    I would like to see the 5% that is allowed to be redirected to be sent to the NDDC. That will probably bring on some displeasure with some folks. I wonder if 100% is going to the CVB at this time, or only 95%. 5% isn’t much, but maybe the NDDC can do some good with a bit of extra funding.

    Just curious on several fronts. Let the discussion proceed on!

  21. In response and agreement to Norm’s Post #70.

    It is a pretty sorry state of affairs when one walks into a local downtown business, and there is a large 8 1/2 x 11 sign behind the checkout that states:

    Chamber Dollars
    NOT ACCEPTED
    Here.

    That my friends, is bad, and bad for business.

    At least the Chamber could have a policy to reimburse ANY business member, regardless of membership, for these vouchers. This would be the right thing to do, and be pro-business.

    What is a non-member to do at this point?

    Go and attempt to spend them at a member business?

    I see where you are coming from from a membership perspective, but I think this policy should be reviewed, and some sort of more friendly practice be put in place.

    Norm, I hope you got your $$$ back.

  22. I have appreciated all of the comments. Many of the comments were constructive, and point to a perceived, and perhaps real shortcoming of the Chamber. I also trust that some of the misconceptions about the Chamber were cleared.

    I would be most interested in hearing from people on the “hope” part of my talk and editorial. Is the Chamber justified in believing that additional business support and development is vital to Northfield’s future? If it is, who or how is the charge going to be led, if not by the Chamber? If it is not, what is more important, and who (other than the government) is going to lead the charge?

  23. John: I have no recollection of the September CVB presentation to the council, but it may just be that there was a bunch of more attention getting stuff going on … so I’m certainly not saying they didn’t make the required report.

  24. David L., of course the Chamber is justified in believing that additional business support and development is vital to Northfield’s future. To suggest otherwise would be a non sequitur.

    However, from looking at all of the comments to this post, it seems that the Chamber may not be the right entity to lead the change. It’s clear from your responses that non-Chamber businesses are blacklisted by Chamber members. This is counter-productive, and not acceptable.

    NDDC can’t handle the task alone, not with their commitment only to downtown businesses. Can you imagine what the NDDC could do with a chunk of that lodging tax money though? Maybe the available funds should be disbursed between the NDDC and the Chamber. From my (very cursory) reading of the city code, it seems the NDDC could fit the role of a local convention and tourism board.

    If you were from an organization looking to book a convention in this town, and to plan the accompanying social events for your guests, where would you go? The Grand is our best local event center, so you’d probably plan your convention there. You would organize a walking tour of historic downtown, and include a pass through the historical society. You would organize a pub crawl which would have stops at the Cow, the Rueb, and the Frog. You might plan a cocktail hour with heavy appetizers at the Rueb and run a shuttle between the downtown and the larger motels. Seems like the NDDC is in a good position to encourage such a convention… I hope they wouldn’t leave Norm out just because he’s not a Chamber member.

    BTW, last year’s Girls Night Out event was a SMASHING success. That was exactly the kind of event that the Chamber should be backing. I have never before seen the Grand so full…of only women! I’ve got a long history of working in (and patronizing) local service-industry businesses, and I saw a lot of new faces at that I haven’t seen before. Anything that draws the bedroom community to our local businesses is helpful.

  25. Britt: A couple of corrections. The CVB money from the lodging tax is the CVB’s money to be used as the CVB deems appropriate. It is not the Chamber’s money. The Chamber receives money to cover expenses of the CVB.

    Second, each Chamber member gets to decide for himself or herself about doing business with non-Chamber members. I was trying to encourage Chamber members to make Chamber membership part of their decision-making process. I don’t understand why that is counter-productive and not acceptable. Why should Norman get a free ride on the Pub Crawl on the backs of other Chamber members? What is fair about that?

  26. I hear what you’re saying. I understand that you’ve got an obligation to make referrals to Chamber-member businesses. And that’s fair: it’s right on the mission statement so there’s no surprise to anyone. But I don’t think that includes an obligation to actively blacklist non-businesses. I think you should seek new members through encouragement, not threats. (However, if you can believe wikipedia, the concept of a blacklist of non-businesses is rote in a Chamber of Commerce, so Northfield’s not alone.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamber_of_commerce

    I think the Chamber would have a lot more support if the website bragged about events the Chamber is responsible for. Otherwise, it’s hard to give you credit when I can’t figure out where credit is due. Like, if you fund a Pub Crawl, there should be a write up on your website. That way, other bloggers and business owners will link to your site and a visitor is more likely to come upon it.

    If the Chamber funds the Pub Crawl, what does the Chamber’s money cover? Advertising expenses only, right? Or are some drinks and appetizers hosted by the Chamber? I just don’t know, I’m asking.

    I understand that Norm won’t be asked to participate in such a pub crawl, as he is not a chamber member it makes sense. However, not asking him to participate is much different from deterring patronage of his establishment. That creates hard feelings all around, so Norm would be more likely to take on organizing of a pub crawl of his own. Then, the Chamber gets no props, so the Chamber loses out too.

    Can you also answer some questions about the CVB? It’s part of the Chamber, right? It’s a subset of the Chamber, not a separate entity, right? Does the CVB have a separate budget and separate responsibilities?

  27. Britt, in your last post, you asked a lot of the same questions I have about where does the Chamber and CVB money go. I don’t know the answers to those questions and we are a Chamber member!!!

    And I think there are other members out there that have the same questions, and that is why I think there should be some sort of meeting of all members/non-members to discuss everything we are talking about here. It would be very productive!

    David, I can understand your urge to send all the members to Kathy, but I just think for questions/issues like this it would be better served by a group discussion.

  28. David. You said “…each Chamber member gets to decide for himself or herself about doing business with non-Chamber members. I was trying to encourage Chamber members to make Chamber membership part of their decision-making process. I don’t understand why that is counter-productive and not acceptable.”

    Unbelievable, even more so that you do not comprehend it. What next; a five pointer star or similar over the door of non-members?

    The Cow and Chapati advertise in the Star Tribune. This brings visitors to Northfield which benefits other businesses. The Taste of Northfield, brought to you by the NDDC, involves quite a few volunteers most of whom are business people. The whole downtown, Chamber member or not, benefits from these labors and initiatives. Ditto Girls Night Out, Shakespeare in The Park, all the volunteering on many and various committees and occasions.

    By all means, David, hand over Winter Walk and the Pub Crawl to the NDDC…what’s left for you to feel petulant about? All the The Chamber needs, like so many institutions in town, is an enema. Stop digging, David.

  29. Because of all the frustration voiced here, perhaps what is needed is some good old American competition.

    But first, Britt, notice at your link that, right under blacklisting, another purpose/function listed was price fixing: “Prevention of unnecessary competition by establishing uniform hours, wages and prices.” Hmmm. But it’s Wikipedia, so they’ll dismiss it.

    Regarding competition for the Chamber (which is merely good-old capitalism and the invisible hand of the marketplace, ala Adam Smith, doing its job, so the Chamber can’t really complain), what features should a competitor business organization for the Greater Northfield area have?

    – Be nicer than the Chamber, and find ways to serve all businesses, even if they’re Chamber members.

    – No blacklisting. Instead, good sportsmanship: when the opposing team makes a good play, appreciate and learn from their excellence.

    – Accept Chamber dollars (and then turn around and spend them at Chamber member businesses, if the Chamber won’t reimburse)?

    – Welcome Democrats who own businesses, and don’t make them feel uncomfortable about their party affiliation?

    – Have membership fees that are start-up friendly, and home-based business friendly (especially as we’re in a recession, and gov’t stats show that during economic downturns, the most jobs are created by small businesses, and especially those operated out of the home).

    – Give awards to businesses that contribute to the vitality of Northfield’s business community– regardless of membership status.

    – Give some free memberships along with awards, and others via lottery system.

    – Learn from the Chamber’s mistakes and be willing to think outside the box in ways the Chamber refuses to?

    – Play nice with the NDDC, EDA, the Latino Enterprise Center, and even the Chamber, from the start, instead of having to learn through mistakes to come to that point?

    Instead of complaining about the Chamber (which seems only to evoke the same refrains about serving their members, optional blacklisting, etc.), start a new org. If the Chamber won’t change, create a better organization to which more businesses would prefer to belong, and make the Chamber appear unnecessary and obsolete.

    Sort of like Andrew Carnegie and the steel mills, but no hostile takovers.

    If the Chamber wakes up and changes as a result and survives, then the resulting “competitor” organizations might learn from each other’s ingenuity in a healthy and mutually beneficial competition.

    If the Chamber shuts down from inability to adapt and lack of interest, well, that would be sad, but it happens.

    To paraphrase Gandhi, “Be the changed Chamber you wish to see in the world.”

    Later today, I’ll leave a NFLD P.O. box where you can send the money….

  30. Hayes and David S.: If you really want to make a difference, join the Board, or sit down with me or any of the Chamber board members. Please be cognizant that we are volunteers who have chosen to run the Chamber as well as our own businesses.

    Hayes: Do you want to be in charge of setting up the informational meeting? If you say yes, we could end this blog. You would be everyone’s hero!!

  31. David, believe me I understand what sacrifices you make to the Chamber and other organizations in town. NHS’s background is volunteers. Our board members are volunteers and many of them run their own business as well. So you are not alone.

    About a year and half ago someone called me about getting involved in the Chamber but they never called me back.

    I would love to help set up an informational session, but I don’t think I should be the lone person in setting it up. How can I set up an informational session for something I do not have the answers to?

  32. David,
    Perhaps this should first be a part of a board discussion, but I would be happy to help setting up a conversation type session that would invite public comments, feedback and ideas for how the chamber could be more relevant to the business community or to small businesses that may not be involved as of yet. Also give some background as to the structure of the chamber and their partnership with the CVB, which might be relevant to Hayes and anyone else involved in tourism. Then we shall see who shows up and get them involved! In the meantime perhaps the membership committee would consider a temporary or partial membership for newbies to get their feet wet. For instance, I can’t afford to be full voting member of WINGS yet, but I am part of a membership circle of four people. The group only has one vote, but it is a building block for more participation.

  33. Mary, thanks for your flexibility and willingness to get the conversation started.
    I always marvel at the idea that the businesses outside of town are harmful to downtown, when I would think they’d be seen as wonderful links to new customers.
    For example, the medical and dental clinics and veterinary and professional offices south of downtown are filled with hungry people on tight schedules. Easy ordering and express delivery routes could bring new lunch business, and discounts or promotions (or just invitations) could bring those professionals — and their clients — downtown after work. All those waiting rooms, and the waiting rooms at the car service providers would be wonderful places to have catalogs, maps and other information about downtown businesses, all sitting there for people to read while they pass the time. Churches and youth groups could get group rates to come for brunch after services or meal cards where a percentage of spending goes to their organization. (Letting people earn donations could be an alternative to just getting hit up for donations.) Perhaps some of the summer events could be held at the soccer complex parking lot, where downtown businesses could woo hundreds of new customers in one shot.
    It just seems that growing the business community benefits everyone in business.

  34. Anne,

    As a frequent customer, I know that Beef O’Brady’s donates 10% of the check total to the church of your choice on visits occurring on Sunday.

    You write the church and address on the back of the check, and place it in the designated bucket on the way out.

    Beef’s is really trying hard to do it right. Great food, great service, and local franchise ownership. It has owners that are committed to a long term lease, and want to do some good in the community.

    I am anxious to see what they do once they are out of their “probationary” franchise period, and have some additional flexibility.

    Disclaimer: I do not know if Beef’s is a Chamber Member.

  35. After considerable BBB (bribing, browbeating, and bitching) by the triumvirate, Mary Rossing has agreed to be our guest on this week’s Locally Grown radio show/podcast. We’ll be live today, 5:30 PM, KYMN 1080 AM. Call-ins might be taken: 645-5695.

  36. The Chamber has arranged for a business property tax discussion. If you are not a Chamber member, call Kathy at the Chamber if you want to learn more or attend. 645-5604. Of course, Chamber members can also call Kathy.

  37. Great to hear you BBB’s Mary. I’ll bet she (you, Mary) and others can get some things going. Many of the active members of the Chamber are wonderful people and may prove interested and willing. As often happens, sometimes we don’t think to question the structure and status quo, but if given a reason to, who knows. There is a huge gap in my mind between some of the kind folks I know who are very active Chamber members and some of the things I’ve read here. Why the gap?

  38. Griff: You will also be happy to know that the Chamber will be updating its website. Suggestions, especially from paying members, are appreciated.

  39. David,

    As a paying Chamber member, I would love to see the Chamber do some sort of blog, so it can be updated fairly easy. See our website for a good example. http://www.northfieldhistory.org or the Defeat of Jesse James Days website, http://www.djjd.org

    I would like to see the Chamber goals, easily accessible.

    All of the Chamber brochures online in a PDF document so visitors can download them before they come to NFLD.

    Maybe a one-stop events calendar, not broken down into St. Olaf/Carleton/Arts Calendar, etc….this can be done with Google Calendar. Have it so maybe contributors can edit and change events themselves, so we do not have to contact the chamber to do so.

    That’s all I can think of for now, more maybe to come.

  40. I looked for a Chamber of Commerce forum on property taxes, and this came up… so I guess it will do as well as any…

    Yesterday, 4.30.2010, the Chamber hosted yet another forum on property taxes… and the “Frustrated , but hopeful” title still holds… although “hopefull”is diminishing speedily .

    I appreciate the Chamber doing this every so often, but I must say that the structure of the forum is, IMO, all wrong… It was all LECTURE and very little LISTENING.

    Every gov’t unit points fingers at every other gov’t unit as if to explain NOT being the ‘culprit’; there are long presentations on the tax structure , calculations, etc.

    I think most , if not all, of the commercial property owners who have been struggling with the cash flow problems which these high commercial taxes in part cause, understand very well the process.

    1. The tax structure needs to be revisited at a deep analytical level.
    2. The commercial tax structure as it now stands will kill every small town, central business district in the state.
    3. Those core biz districts which are also historic districts run the serious risk of becoming run-down museums of 19th Century buildings.
    *** 4. The need for the legislature to move as quickly as possible on this is imperative. (I know you legislators all have more residential votes than commercial to worry about; what ever happened to public policy vs. counting votes?)
    *** 5. Local gov’t units, i.e. NF, etc., must lobby strenuously in behalf of their central business districts, which in Northfield provides, along with the colleges, most of the “cache” that NF enjoys.

    It is unbelievably frustrating to have sat through at least 4-6 of these Chamber organized meetings that are poorly structured to achieve the results they seemingly wish to achieve. Ask former Chamber Pres., Jeff Hasse, if his question to the City Administrator was answered…

    1. Kiffi: It’s not easy to know what can or should be done by the Chamber. One thing that we can do is educate our members. We want businesses to be aware of how taxes are calculated, who gets how much, and how property taxes fund various government agencies.

      Two years ago, I said that I had hope because the causes that the Chamber are promoting are good causes that, in the end, we make Northfield a better and stronger community. I still think that is true. Property taxes are one of those areas that needs to have something positive happen. Business owners pay substantially more for services than residential owners. In a city that prides itself on spending money for things like bike trails ($400.00 per foot) and libraries ($8.0 million that we don’t have), government leaders need to see how these spending policies make it harder and harder to do business.

      Some of the same frustrations still exist. One of the frustrations is non-Chamber members “milking the Chamber’s cow”. I would hope that one day you and other business owners will join with the Chamber in addressing the issues.

      1. David: I really resent you implying … no saying… that non members are “milking the Chamber’s cow’. I belonged to the Chamber early on in our building ownership here, but when I saw that it was of NO advantage to me, and I had a building (foolish me) that wasn’t providing me enough income to have to pay any income tax, I decided to cut the Chamber fee out of my business budget.

        I will be glad to not attend any more Chamber forums, although my NDDC participation allows me that ‘privilege’.

        I would be willing to bet that 90% of the building owners there were all too familiar with their property tax calculations.
        They needed some listening, not another lecture. I would think they would be asking for the ratios of lecture time vs. Q&A time to be reversed.

        By the way, I would remind you of the time when the Coldstone Creamery owners came to town, and asked for properties on , or close to, Bridge Square; my building had empty space, but the ice cream people were told that there was NO space for them downtown, and the Chamber would want them on the Highway, anyway!
        And that experience with the NF Chamber office was told to me by the owner of the Lakeville store, when we inquired about their interest in opening a store in Northfield.

        Yeah … ouch!

      2. Kiffi: You aren’t the only one milking the Chamber’s cow. Some business owners don’t have enough revenue to justify a Chamber membership (and some other businesses have been really hurt by this economy too). The Chamber has looked at ways of making it feasible for many of these folks.

        Regarding the actual forum, I am sure the government leaders were listening. They all stayed after the meeting to listen. And, they all explained how the property taxes were used in their respective areas.

        I think the bigger issue for Northfield is how the property taxes are being spent. In these tough times, we shouldn’t be putting additional strain on the property owners. That subject is a matter for another forum.

  41. Kifi, I share your frustration. Commerical property taxes are a huge factor in the decline of small businesses in Minnesota. Remember, when your income is decent you pay a decent amount of income taxes. But when your income crashes, as it has done for most small business owners over the past 3-4 years, your property taxes remain just as they are—regardless of income.

    One of the things done about 10 years ago was to implement a state general tax on commercial properties. This was done as part of the state take over of 100% of school funding. That new tax has hit commerical property owners hard. And it is disheartening to see legislators come up with ‘new’ plans each budget session to increase that tax. Somehow many legislators have the belief that businesses can pay just about any thing they can think up. They don’t seem to understand that no business pays any taxes—but all people who purchase things from businesses each pay a share of those business taxes levied. But when the economy turns down as it has done, there may not be enough people purchasing things from a business. At that point the business closes. And when a business closes everyone in the community suffers from the loss of the business.
    .-= (Ray Cox is a blogger. See a recent post titled Foundation Wall) =-.

  42. it seems like now would be a good time to implement an e-fairness tax. currently we punish businesses within MN and reward businesses outside of MN. it’s not a new tax as it is only implemented on items that are already taxed, just enforcing the collection of tax on these items purchases via the internet. It would certainly help resolve the budget deficit.

    frankly I don’t see that commercial property tax relief will occur. The budget shortfall ate it.
    .-= (Jerry is a blogger. See a recent post titled New Arrivals) =-.

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