Northfield becoming Silicon Valley and North Beach; but what about green collar manufacturing?

IMG_3179_1000.jpgArt Monaghan, Northfielder and a partner with Granite Equity Partners, (4th of July photo on left — click to enlarge — is with two of his partners but I’m not 100% certain they’re the Granite types) alerted a few folks to this article which appeared on the front page of the June 8 edition of Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal: Northfield striving to become tech town. It got forwarded to me eventually.

Lee_Runzheimer.jpgThe Northfielder featured in the article (in the Biz Journal photo on the right) was Lee Runzheimer, the executive director of the Northfield Enterprise Center at the time the article was written. He resigned shortly it was published to become the CFO of ID Insight, the company he helped lure to Northfield. Details in this 6/16 article in the Northfield News: Director of NEC resigns.

Here’s the Biz Journal paragraph that helps paint our economic future as a mix of Geeks of Silicon Valley with the Beats of North Beach (click the screenshot image to see a large gif of the article):

mspbj-nfld.gifID Insight Inc., which is developing software to combat identity theft, said last week it will relocate its St. Paul headquarters to Northfield in August… ID Insight looked at about a half-dozen Minnesota communities for its permanent headquarters before settling on Northfield, said CEO Adam Elliott. The financial incentives helped, but Elliott has other ties to the city; about half his employees are alums of St. Olaf College, and about 60 percent of his board of directors went there, too.

When Lee Runzheimer, executive director of the Northfield Enterprise Center, suggested that Northfield could one day be a sort of Midwest version of Palo Alto, Calif., Elliott said he didn’t completely laugh it off. The Northfield Enterprise Center is a nonprofit arm of the city’s economic development authority that helps expand area businesses.

“It’s got kind of a beatnik culture,” Elliott said. “We bought in a little bit to the vision.”

Also mentioned in the article: 3C Capital Partners, a Northfield investment fund spearheaded by Rich Falck and Brett Reese; and Richard Garcia, CEO of Northfield-based videogame developer Monster Games.

I wonder, though, if we shouldn’t also be pursuing the green collar manufacturing that NY Times columnist Tom Friedman talks about in his column today, The Green Road Less Traveled:

O.K., Friedman, so I.B.M. is now in the traffic biz. Who cares? I care, because it underscores a fundamental truth about green technology: you can’t make a product greener, whether it’s a car, a refrigerator or a traffic system, without making it smarter – smarter materials, smarter software or smarter design.

What can many U.S. companies still manufacture? They can manufacture things that are smart – that have a lot of knowledge content in them, like a congestion pricing network for a whole city. What do many Chinese companies manufacturer? They manufacture things that can be made with a lot of cheap labor, like the rubber tires on your car. Which jobs are most easily outsourced? The ones vulnerable to cheap labor. Which jobs are hardest to outsource? Those that require a lot of knowledge.

So what does all this mean? It means that to the extent that we make “green” standards part of everything we design and manufacture, we create “green collar” jobs that are much more difficult to outsource. I.B.M. and other tech companies are discovering a mother lode of potential new business for their high-wage engineers and programmers thanks to the fact that mayors all over the world are thinking about going green through congestion pricing systems.

FYI, Friedman’s The Power of Green article that originally appeared in the April 15 NY Time magazine is still available online along with a video interview. And see this YouTube video of his Green is the New Red, White, and Blue presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival.


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