Northfield is Not Hibbing

Councilor Jim Pokorny recently wrote a guest column for the Northfield News.  In it, he talked about growing up in Hibbing.  He noted that the town gave him a good start in life, with good school for kids and good amenities for families.

According to Jim, however, all is not well in Hibbing.  He says that Hibbing has struggled to create jobs, has a lifeless downtown, and has a lack of opportunity.  Jim cites Hibbing as a cautionary tale for Northfield.  Jim argues that, in order to avoid Hibbing’s fate, Northfield needs to attract and retain entrepreneurs and young families by building a business park.

Actually, based on demographic studies to both the Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan and the EDA’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan, Northfield does a great job attracting young families.  In fact, it does better than most cities in Minnesota.

I agree with Jim, however, Northfield should work  hard to attract and retain entrepreneurs.  Based on what I’ve seen and heard, in the past five to ten years, Northfield has been fairly successful in attracting people like Jim’s high school friends, the pediatric surgeon, the software entrepreneur, the architect, the graphic designer, and the plant manager.  Several of these recently arrived professionals have started new businesses in Northfield.  These people have told me that they were attracted to Northfield because ot the culture, the schools, and the historic downtown, as well as the colleges, the river, and the arts.  Their comments, I believe, identify our community’s strengths.

If Hibbing is having trouble attracting entrepreneurs and young families, maybe they lack some of Northfield’s strengths.  Maybe to make up for the lack of these strengths, Hibbing needs to build a business park.

In fact, Hibbing has a business park.  It has 323 acres designated as a JOBZ Zone and 150 acres that are attached to its airport.  Perhaps creating a business park is not the key to stimulating economic growth.

My wife and I visited Hibbing, boyhood home of Bob Dylan, for our anniversary last year.  It was a two and a half hour drive from Silver Bay and an hour and a half drive from Duluth.  Maybe Hibbing’s somewhat isolated location causes young people like Bob Dylan, Jeno Palucci, Roger Maris, Rudy Perpich, Robert Mondavi, and Kevin McHale to seek bigger venues for their talents.  Maybe that’s why Jim’s high school friends now live in the Twin Cities.

Again, I’ll agree with Jim, it’s easy to criticize spending $250,000 for a Master Plan as a an unnecessary long-term expenses, particularly during a period when so many of our existing businesses are struggling.  I’ll admit, I’ve heard more than one person express just such criticism.
Fortunately, the EDA has almost a  million dollars left in their reserves.  Our leaders have a chance to evaluate their decisions to-date and determine our next steps before spending any more of these reserves.

Perhaps they’ll spend the next $250,000 promoting Northfield’s identified assets: our culture, our schools, and our downtown, the colleges, the river, and the arts.

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