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 Comments

  1. Ross Currier said:

    Hey Griff –

    You make some good points here. I know that there are a number of Chamber Board members who would be very interested in and open to them. In fact, let me introduce you to Jeff Hasse. He is an energized and activist leader and I, personally, have great expectations of him.

    – Ross

    April 5, 2008
  2. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, you make some good points. Here’s a little annoyance…My daughter likes to buy gift certificates for us to use in town. She calls the chamber…and has to mail a check and wait to have them mail the chamber dollars, which she has to mail to me, a process that can take several days. That’s no way to buy online or over the phone, so lots of last-minute sales are lost. And this has happened two years in a row, so they have had no interest in grabbing this opportunity.
    Yes, the website is horrid and the lack of real online shopping specials and other promotions seems a waste.
    I think the chamber could do so much more to make it a vibrant, exciting center of business leadership in this town. We can join in hope that it will move in that direction this year.

    April 5, 2008
  3. Adam Elg said:

    Griff,

    Thank you for your comments. In the seven years as a business owner in Northfield, and even heavily involved in the Chamber, I observed many of the same scenarios you describe.

    In my estimation and in my observation of the Chamber, It has always focused on supporting big business and the positions and interests of big business in Northield. Not main street business owners or sole proprietors.

    Early years of development of the NDDC were hampered as a result of stonewalling, lack of cooperation, and territorial game playing by Chamber leadership. (Harsh huh? Well that’s what it looked like to me)

    Frankly, the Chamber should quit trying to get struggling downtown business owners to anti up and join and rather focus their energy and resources focusing on working with the city and the EDA or Enterprise Center to make Nortfield easier to work with for big companies.

    Leave downtown to the NDDC and quit stonewalling the NDDC from becoming an organization with contributing members. (Maybe the NDDC isn’t interested in a paying membership base but I think should, and always should have been so).

    I’m sorry that David Ludescher didn’t accomplish what he had hoped to however it really is no surprise to me. I suggest that the next President of the Chamber look more deeply within the organization and complain less about outside forces such as the city of Northfield and business that don’t desire to join.

    April 5, 2008
  4. Jerry Bilek said:

    Griff,
    great points. David has some valid points as well in his comments and criticism. for example, I agree transportation task force should have representation from both bikers and truckers.

    I am one who “milks the chamber cow,” I have not joined. I am not opposed to joining organizations I believe in. I have joined the American Booksellers Assoc.(ABA), the Midwest Booksellers Assoc(MBA) and I give to the NDDC. All of these organizations have worked on my behalf to make my business better. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the Chamber represents my viewpoints. Crazy days and Winter Walk are it as far as I can tell.

    I was asked to join, got my letter in the mail. No discussion about benefits, just a letter.

    Yes, the website is a model T. If the website really showed off what Northfield has to offer it might be worth joining. It could use a marketing element to it. Anne mentioned some really great ideas. Maybe if the Chamber recruited a blog coach into it’s membership, things would improve(nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Chamber gift cards?

    April 5, 2008
  5. Paul Fried said:

    My wife operates a small business, and when I’ve taught private guitar lessons, we checked into membership details. The costs are simply prohibitive, and are not structured to allow more businesses easy entry, and then participation that might lead to more cooperation and a higher level of membership, if needed.

    It could be a great form of outreach if, when they have their annual awards, they would try to recognize and award non-member businesses for some of the great things they accomplish and innovate, and perhaps offer free trial memberships along with the awards.

    Instead, awards are restricted to members only, and some of them might be seen as dubious by broader members of the community. Many go to contractors, some of whom may deserve awards, others who may simply be getting a turn (I live in a home that was poorly constructed during the housing boom in the late ’70’s, and the construction company that built my home is still in business, still a member of the chamber; do you award a business that does or did shoddy work? How much does a business have to improve to overcome a bad reputation to deserve an award, or is financial success the sole criteria?)….

    When David was Chamber VP and about to become Pres., his then-law partner, Tom Neuville, received the businessman of the year award (I think that’s what the award was called — correct me if I’m wrong).

    Most organizations would, or should, have some restriction that those who receive awards should not be partners of sitting executive board members, but it was right after the election when Tom won by one of his slimmest margins ever, and lost in Northfield, so it was a nice way to boost his ratings before he moved on to the judiciary, but the kind if move that, rightly, would make many non-member businesses (especially non-business owners who are not partisan Republicans) think that the Chamber was acting, if only temporarily, like a front-organization for the Republican party.

    Even if their bylaws allowed it at the time, this is not the way to attract new members in a DFL-leaning town. This is a “wake up and smell the coffee” kind if issue: You just don’t act that way and then complain about low membership. Even if Tom’s votes were consistently in line with the voting recommendation of the national chambers, there could have been a better way to recognize Tom for his work, and not have it unfold that way, while his partner, David, was VP and becoming Pres.

    I suspect they could be much more successful attracting new members if they did some careful outreach, asking non-member businesses: Are our membership fees too high? What kind of fees would be affordable, and what kinds of services would you like to see in return?

    If they lowered their membership rates but boosted their membership, even if they broke even the first year, having more members might eventually lead to more successes.

    But that may sound too inclusive, and would require some serious thinking outside the box. Maybe the Chamber is content being small, like a country-club, where people of the same political persuasion can mingle with more of same at the banquet, and not have to feel they’re slumming. Then you can still pretend you’re persecuted and blame other businesses for avoiding you, if you want to maintain your persecution conplex. If those are the goals, the Chamber is doing fine and should stay the course. You reap what you sow.

    April 5, 2008
  6. Adam Elg said:

    THANK YOU PAUL! AWSOME!

    April 5, 2008
  7. Jane McWilliams said:

    My beef is with the Convention and Visitors Bureau which, I believe, is funded with a lodging tax, and which doesn’t seem to have any public oversight.

    Several times recently, while waiting for the train, I’ve prowled in the visitors center in the RedWing train station. It is an attractive room, with floor to ceiling information not only about RedWing, but many, many cities and other Minnesota destinations, NOT including Northfield. The staff there didn’t have a clue as to why Northfield wasn’t filling their shelves. On one occasion, I called the Chamber office and was told they were just publishing a new Northfield Guide . . . which I subsequently did not see in RedWing. I wonder how many other similar places in the state we don’t have any visibility?

    Where does the tax money go?

    April 5, 2008
  8. Paul Fried said:

    Adam: Thanks for the feedback, but as I don’t know you personally , I’m curious:
    are you
    A) a member of the Chamber’s executive board, grateful for the feedback, or
    B) a local business owner who, at times, has felt as I do, or
    C) none of the above, but an outsider who feels his hunches confirmed, or
    or… ?

    What was it that struck the nerve?

    April 5, 2008
  9. Paul Fried said:

    Oops, Adam, I read your good comments earlier in the thread but didn’t remember your name, so to get such compliments in all caps, I thought, Who is this guy? I’m surprised at your enthusiasm at my observations, as I figure I’m more an academic type and outsider to Nfld business establishment, but thanks. You describe yourself as having been at times very involved with the chamber. Any other thoughts on how to improve things? I have little to say on this topic, but am interested in what the insiders think.

    April 5, 2008
  10. David Ludescher said:

    First, Griff – Thank you on behalf of the Chamber over the last year. Even though you may not be a supporter of the Chamber, I have appreciated the opportunity to have this forum. I have always considered your comments to be fair.

    Let me address your issues.

    1. First, my remarks were made at the Chamber banquet for Chamber members. Hence, the remarks were not intended to be inclusive.

    2. Regarding how you have been treated individually by the Chamber is worthy of some individual, non-blog attention. Let’s talk off-line.

    3. Regarding the blogosphere, the short answer is – so? In my years on the board, no one has ever mentioned that the blogosphere should be a priority. Perhaps we need some education by you. Why don’t you stop by the office and see if you can sell us on your services? Obviously, you believe it has value; convince us (the Chamber).

    4. While you are at it, talk to Jeff Hasse about the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sounds like you have some great ideas that fit even better into the CVB’s mission than the Chamber’s mission.

    5. I doubt that other board members will be posting. I have discouraged Kathy from doing so. While I appreciate your compliment that I have been a breath of fresh air, I am not convinced that your opinion represents a majority. If the comments don’t further the Chamber’s mission, then we shouldn’t participate.

    Lastly, I had intended my message to be one of hope, not lament – a vision that the Chamber will always be needed because a healthy business environment is a core need of the community. It is not easy in a town with so many diverse opinions, and such strong wills to sell the Chamber.

    April 6, 2008
  11. David Ludescher said:

    In response to some of the other posts:

    1. Tom Neuville received the businessperson of the year award for his dedicated service, especially working for businesses. For 17 years, Tom gave tirelessly and selflessly of himself, and our office helped support him. At the time of his retirement, he was working on a bill with some downtown businesspeople to keep property taxes low and affordable.

    2. The NDDC was birthed out of the Chamber. Being a broad based organization, the Chamber could not politically or economically afford to focus its efforts on just the downtown. Presently, the NDDC and the Chamber have a cordial, yet competitive and cooperative relationship. Many businesses are supportive of both organizations. The executive directors and the boards continue to meet on an irregular basis to discuss joint efforts, and avoid direct competition for the same dollars.
    (The NDDC is a Chamber member.)

    3. The Chamber talked about lower “entry” fees. We decided against it. We calculated that $275 was as low as we could go. For a business that takes advantage of the Chamber, you can receive well in excess of $275. (Just the picture in the paper is worth more.)

    4. The website and other electronic services are not state of the art. But, just like any other business, we need to make sure that the value outweighs the costs, and that a website focus doesn’t hurt our other services.

    5. We have stayed away from asking for public resources, even for events enjoyed by the town, like Crazy Daze and Winter Walk. Philosophically, the Chamber would not be a business organization if it were not self-supporting. So, Jerry, kick in the money for the Chamber events that you like. You could pay for the milk that you use. We accept donations.

    6. The Chamber doesn’t have a persecution complex. Business is business. We need to invigorate our members so that they can help sell the value of membership, and the need for a strong business prescence. You can’t sell anything by whining and complaining.

    Hopefully, the Chamber can reposition itself to be a player in the decision-making process, and others will agree that it should be. It just astounds me that Northfield can do things like spend 18 months and $30,000 in attorneys feees to get a 34 page rental ordinace that is probably unconstitutional, when Northfield has other problems like businesses seeing 20% tax increases, Malt-O-Meal and College City Beverage building outside Northfield, and increasing residential taxation dependence.

    April 6, 2008
  12. Jerry Bilek said:

    David,
    Thank you for your follow up comments. I agree it would be wise to talk with Griff about the power of the internet and blogs. Anne makes some good points as well about what the web could offer chamber members.

    I assess chamber membership like any business expense. Is it worth the investment. right now, I don’t think so. I pushed the Midwest Booksellers assoc(MBA) to make some changes a couple of years ago. I saw what other regional bookselling organizations were doing and asked why we could not do the same thing. To their credit MBA rolled out a marketing program that has really helped small retailers like myself. I fully support it, I feel I have to.

    Is it better to wait for change then join or join and affect change?

    April 6, 2008
  13. Paul Fried said:

    David: I don’t doubt that Tom deserved recognition for the kinds of things you say, but I only commented about the perception created when he received the award while you were moving from VP to Pres., and the fact that much of what was said when he received the award (and what you say above) sounds like they should have recognized him, not as businessperson of the year, but given him a special award as a legislator-friend of business.

    Jaci’s editorial brings up some strange issues:
    “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. ”

    David, it seems the Chamber wants it both ways: They want to speak for business and to the issue of the “not the most friendly” climate, but out of the other side of the Chamber’s mouth, then claim that people have the wrong perception that the Chamber is meant to serve more than it’s members. Then the complaints about not enough members….

    I hear an awful lot of switching gears here. If the sincere goal of the Chamber is to broaden its membership, then it would seem that should start acting more as if it’s willing to serve the business community, members or not, so as to gain credibility and attract interest. That’s what businesses that lack customers have to do: they have loss-leaders, sales, special deals, drawings, free memberships, trial memberships, etc.

    As far as entry level membership goes, you’re still thinking inside the box. Maybe some new members don’t want a picture in the paper, and maybe the entry-level services (a listing via the Chamber so-very-1999 web site?) would not cost you much to offer. It depends on how you package what a person gets at a given level.

    If you say the Chamber is not meant to serve local businesses but only its members, then don’t call it “business of the year” award. Call it “Chamber-member business of the year” award.

    And inasmuch as some businesses (like Griff’s) do a great service to many locally, and whose value stretches beyond specific customers and chamber members, having the Chamber give some awards and free memberships to certain businesses for their contributions — to the Chamber as non-members, and to the general business climate — might be in order. If they find something worth renewing their membership for, then great. If not, then you’d have to ask: What is it you’re not offering businesses that keeps them from being interested?

    If you actually had a really easy entry level with few perks, then you might have a group of those businesses (many, perhaps start-ups), and some new businesses might bring in the new blood and new ideas you seem to need.

    The Franciscans and some other orders have a tradition that, in the monestary, they let the youngest, new recruits speak first. I’ve been told that the purpose is to encourage new ideas, so the veteran monks and their ideas don’t dominate the discussions. They find ways to build it into their system to be challenged to think outside the box.

    Maybe the Chamber isn’t interested in such nonsense. Maybe they’re satisfied having things run the way they’re used to them, and just want others to see the great wisdom of their established methods, and come over to their way of seeing things, and join, more than they want to make much effort in outreach and adapting in substantial ways to as to attract new members, with their varied interests.

    So maybe many prospective businesses are not interested in that kind of Chamber.

    April 6, 2008
  14. Britt Ackerman said:

    A friend of mine owns a small business in Northfield, and is not a member of the Chamber. This friend was warned by a Chamber member that their business would be blacklisted if they didn’t join the Chamber. If this is true, I’m disturbed at the thought that the Chamber would encourage its members not to patronize non-Chamber businesses. Such conduct does not seem to be in the Chamber’s best interests. If I were a business owner, I would react very badly to such nefarious conduct. I’d basically say “F you then”, and I’d cut a check to the NDDC.

    The Chamber’s website sucks, but several member businesses have great websites. At least as far as the service industry goes, the Rueb, Froggy’s, and the Contented Cow all have great websites. The Chamber website could be a great marketing tool and could promote tourism if it operated as a gateway to our local service industries. If you Google “northfield tourism” you get a Chamber hit 7 pages down, but it’s not the main page of the Chamber website.

    On the other hand, I agree with David L. that the Chamber has quite a difficult task in encouraging the development and expansion of more industrial business zones. His comment really resonates with me. If the Chamber can succeed in increasing industrial development, then they’re worth every penny, in my mind.

    On a tangent…I’m not sure why sponsorship of the After Prom party by area businesses is such a sore spot. Although it’s been a few years since my proms, (just a few years, I swear) and my proms were in rural Nebraska, our Post Prom parties were always sponsored by local businesses. We had great prizes, and fun games that were run by volunteer parents. Local pizza places donated food and there were gift certificates and cash prizes as well. Us kids patronized local businesses as much as our parents did, and the largest donors were the businesses most patronized by the kids. Our post prom parties were so fun that everyone went. It was actually more fun than driving around and getting stoned and/or drunk and then having reckless unprotected sex, believe it or not. Our local businesses who supported the post prom parties got great press for their generosity, and received personal thank you notes from the prom organizers. Prom is just one of those events that the whole community can take part in to ensure the safety of our kids at the same time we try to help them have memorable experiences.

    April 7, 2008
  15. Britt Ackerman said:

    UGH, Griff, I need an HTML tutorial from you. Will you pretty please fix that last post for me so I’m not misquoting David L.?

    April 7, 2008
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Britt, I removed the errant blockquote tags but I don’t see any of David’s words in your comment that need to be placed inside them. Email me with a fix, if it’s not how you intended it.

    April 7, 2008
  17. Adam Elg said:

    David Fried,

    I’d love to say more but am no longer a resident. I spent nine years heavily involved in downtown Northfield and was a driving force in the development of the NDDC. My experience was that downtown retail was underserved by the Chamber and getting things accomplished through the Chamber was difficult and slow. It took years to get the Chamber to help facilitate getting hanging flower baskets on Division Street. Thank goodness for the Garden Club. They stepped up to the plate to help. This scenario was one among many where instead of finding or working toward a solution, the message from the ED or board was “No, it can’t be done” or “We’ve tried this before and it didn’t work”. I’m sure much of that was often a result of money concerns and questions of where the money will come from.

    I guess if all downtown business owners were members thing could happen easier and/or more quickly. However, I don’t think deeper Chamber pockets would have changed things much.

    I know much of the challenge for the Chamber working with downtown business owners was that for the most part, downtown retailers at the time seemed to each have their own agenda and not really a shared vision of what downtown could become. I think that still exists to some degree. After all, they are all independent business owners.

    I don’t think however the Chamber was or is the organization to facilitate and lead a shared vision for downtown. Thus the NDDC came to into existence.

    I think the Chamber has a place, as I mentioned in my previous post. I just think they cannot effectively drive a downtown agenda. The ED said on many occasions, the Chamber represents all member businesses in Northfield and that includes industry, service and retail, both downtown and on Hwy 3.

    Obviously each business owner has to make a decision as to how to spend money and what organizations to join. For downtown business owners I think the NDDC makes a lot of sense to support. I know the NDDC is not a member organization, but consider helping them out. (I’m sure that will pi$$ a few people off) Sorry

    I’ve said to much

    April 7, 2008
  18. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: You made one of my points – you take advantage of Winter Walk, and Crazy Daze, but don’t pay anything. So, if one of your neighbors is a Chamber member, it is paying its share and your share. Over time, that member gets mad at the Chamber for letting you “milk the cow”. So, if we want to have those events, we need our members to come in and encourage you to do your fair share, as well as selling you on the benefits.

    Paul: The Chamber’s first obligation is to its members. None of the board is particularly interested in giving someone else a deal that he, she, or it cannot get himself, herself or itself. It is indeed a telling commentary that the Chamber recognized Tom for his political contributions to area businesses. The Chamber needs to have more involved people like Tom and Ray Cox if the Chamber’s message is to heard.

    Britt: I did encourage members to patronize other Chamber members first, and I used attorneys as an example. Do you recall a couple of years ago when the school board had the levy referendum? Alan Marks wrote a piece about how his company never even had the opportunity to bid on the printing of the levy materials. His business was being asked to pay the extra costs of the levy without the opportunity to even bid on the work. So, if your lawyer is charging $200.00 per hour, and is not putting any of it back into the betterment of the business community …

    Regarding the After Prom party, I brought it up as an example of an entitlement mentality regarding businesses. If parents don’t want to pay for their children’s fun activities, why would they think that I want to pay for it? Why would I want my taxes to go up to pay for a skateboard park, especially if I have to pay once at home, and three times at the office (i.e. property taxes)?

    April 7, 2008
  19. kiffi summa said:

    Wait a minute, wait a minute…David: I can’t believe what you said to Jerry, post # 18!

    Are you saying that he should close on WinterWalk and Crazy Daze because he’s “milking the cow” and “not paying his share”?

    How would that benefit the Chamber? Have some businesses close because they’re not Chamber members? Would the Chamber be benefitted if they put up signs in their windows saying they had not participated because they didn’t want to be accused of “milking the cow”. Or should they just not be open and have people wonder why ; that would get around quickly, that only Chamber members were welcome to participate.

    I think the Chamber needs to prove their worth to retailers, and then understand if some of those retailers margins don’t allow them to join; then take the further step of working in every way possible to create a supportive business climate. Sounds like your philosophy is the exact opposite of what it should be to fulfill the mission.

    I hope you’ll say you didn’t mean your statement the way it sounded.

    April 7, 2008
  20. David Ludescher said:

    Adam: Your point is well-taken. Actually, I don’t think that you said enough. In my opinion, you and I are sharing some of the same frustrations, presently from opposite sides of the fence. But, I am hopeful, and I think you and everyone else should be too.

    I was involved from the inception, from the NDDC side of the fence. I think that it was an invitation from Brett Reese that initially got me involved. I eventually drifted away when the NDDC focus began to stray from an economic focus to a cultural and historical focus.

    Nevertheless, at the NDDC’s inception, it was clear that the Chamber could not serve the downtown members with all of the services they needed and wanted. In addition, as the focus went to cultural and historical issues – issues which the Chamber viewed as a tangential result, not a deliberate goal, the synergy between the organizations evaporated.

    The last several years have really seen some great progress with the organizations trying to complement each other without duplicating efforts, or alienating business owners. Robert Bierman and now Mary Rossing have served on both boards at the same time; we have had numerous joint board meetings to share ideas; we worked together on retail strategies; and the executive directors meet to share plans.

    In my opinion, the NDDC has matured in its expectations and practicalities. I have visions that the NDDC will come to live out the promise of its name – a downtown development corporation.

    Many thanks Adam for your work, and the others who followed you, most recently Ross. Also, many thanks to Brett, Jim Braucher, Keith Covey, and Bardwell Smith for their efforts, and all who followed them.

    I know that the NDDC has also been frustrated – with the Chamber, the City, and many of the downtown business people. Both organizations plow ahead with their separate missions knowing that what they do is good work, and hoping that we show good results. We take your criticisms, as does any business, as an opportunity to better serve our customers.

    April 8, 2008
  21. Paul Fried said:

    Kiffi: Interesting (but sad) litmus test, if non-Chamber members were to boycott Chamber events like Winterwalk: They could not be accused of milking the cow, but the effect on the Chamber events (which, David reminds us, are for the benefit of Chamber members and not non-members) would be devastating.

    Some might argue that the Chamber indirectly benefits all business and residential Northfield, so all should step up to the plate and pay whatever membership fees the Chamber asks, so that the Chamber, in other words, does not need to change at all, but it’s the rest of us at fault who should simply conform to the Chamber. This is the kind of circular logic that a good laywer would try to expose in the reasoning of an opposing lawyer in a courtroom, but would not want to have exposed in his own reasoning.

    It also sounds like a state of denial: The problem is not that a guy beats his wife, but that the wife should stop doing that stuff that ticks the guy off?

    It’s a vicious circle: David, you say the Chamber is really interested in recruiting more members. Fine, so make the changes necessary to do the recruiting. Do the market research and find out what kind of membership fees and benefits would work.

    Then, David, you clarify: Well, our first priority is serving the interests of our members (not expanding membership, or attracting just any member who says they can’t afford the fees, not serving all businesses, or handing out freebees, or more generous and agressive marketing of your memberships).

    So the top priority is clearly serving the status quo, not seeking new members. Sounds just a little conflicted, but at least you’re clear about Chamber priorities.

    Is this what happens with all Chambers of Commerce? Do they all have high membership fees and sometimes appear to be, with perhaps a few member exceptions, a front organization for a particular political party, insisting that pilgrims come to the mountain, instead of moving the mountain closer to the pilgrims? (Faith only moves mountains in the realm of faith, not commerce?)

    Do other Chambers, in other cities, sometimes co-exist and cooperate more fruitfully with a variety of other business- and government-organizations? Are there other models of cooperation that our Chamber and NDDC might learn from, and which people in the Chamber or NDDC might research with a few emails or phone calls to nearby cities or the national Chamber group? (“Hey you, over there in Stillwater or Red Wing: Tell me your success stories of times your Chamber cooperated best with other local organizations, and what personal or group qualities were needed to make it happen?”)

    If Adam still lived here and made calls or queries like that, and then reported back to the NDDC and Chamber, would people here actually perk up and bring about some practical changes, and be energzed by ideas for cooperation? Or are factions in both groups sometimes too mired in their own habits, unable to think outside the box and work toward practical solutions?

    April 8, 2008
  22. Paul Fried said:

    David: Thanks for confirming my point that Tom deserved a Chamber award for pro-Chamber work primarily as a legislator, not as an area business.

    April 8, 2008
  23. David Schlosser said:

    Here’s a little personal annoyance about the Chamber, though I am a bit late on this post…
    The 3 stores that I work with as Director (River City Books, Carleton/St. Olaf Bookstore) are all members of the Chamber, either individually (RCB) or through the colleges (Carleton/St. Olaf). I have been a member of the Retail Committee of the Chamber since 2002, and was chair for one year.
    I have continually pushed for more events…whether downtown or throughout the community. The Retail Committee currently hosts/organizes two annual events: Winter Walk and Ladies Nite Out. It also organizes and supports retail strategy meetings and training sessions.
    What’s frustrating? The Retail Committee’s annual budget is ZERO DOLLARS. Always has been. No money is set aside for what I feel is an important committee. Merchants continually ask why we ask for extra money beyond the Chamber dues to support WW. There’s the answer. The RC has never, ever had any budgeted money to support its goals.
    Personally, I think asking a committee to organize, set up, and support events with no financial support is a bit ridiculous.
    This is why, going forward, I think the NDDC will (and has) taken on more of the role of organizing events that bring customers downtown. It’s tough for a Retail Committee to support events with no financial support!

    April 8, 2008
  24. Paul Fried said:

    David S: That’s very interesting to learn. If David L’s talk about non-members “milking the cow” is to hold water, one would think (and I had assumed) that membership fees go, in part, to support retail events. If the retail events are organized on a volunteer basis, then it’s hard to argue that non-members are milking any Chamber cow. They’re just benefitting from the volunteer work of people, some of whom happen to be Chamber members, it would seem (correct me if I’m wrong, but are there absolutely no non-members who help with Winterwalk, etc.?)…

    I suppose we might hear the argument that the office of the Chamber and its paid staff thinks up the retail events, but because there are so few members, volunteers are needed to pull off the events. But this seems a bit dysfunctional.

    April 8, 2008
  25. Jerry Bilek said:

    I think what David L. is saying is that non-member businesses like mine should pay the $50 to help underwrite the costs of Winter Walk. I don’t have a problem with that.

    April 8, 2008
  26. David Schlosser said:

    I forgot to include Crazy Days. That makes three annual retail events sponsored by the Chamber Retail Committee. Sorry.

    April 8, 2008
  27. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Do you have a good answer for David S.? Why should Chamber members have to pony up additional monies for Winter Walk, Crazy Daze and others, when you don’t pay anything? Why should the Chamber fund the Retail Committee?

    April 8, 2008
  28. David Henson said:

    Jerry always has a good answer – he owns a book store ! Might want to take that bike helmet off and make it a combat helmet.

    April 8, 2008
  29. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    If I’m following things correctly, David S’s post (#23) suggested that:

    The Retail Committee’s annual budget is ZERO DOLLARS. Always has been.

    and therefore he suggested that Chamber members don’t pony up any additional monies for supporting these events.

    April 8, 2008
  30. Jerry Bilek said:

    David L.,
    you lost me. I think David S. criticism is of the Chamber. Maybe I’m reading it incorrectly. It sounds more like the retail members of the chamber pay dues which are not spent on retail events. Is that correct David?

    I’ve never been asked to pay a dime for crazy days. I gave Girls night out a $50 GC as my sponsorship. WW I’ll give next year, I did say I don’t have a problem with that. My first year I was too unorganized to send in any info and a check to the chamber. I followed most of their suggestions. Last year looking for $50 was a tall order. It is the equivalent to 10% of sales and a much higher % of profits.

    The chamber can fund or not fund the retail committee. it’s really not my problem. remember I’m not a member. Your putting a lot of blame on me. I’m the new kid on the block trying to figure all of this out. I’ve tried to be as active as possible with regard to downtown. I’ve joined other trade organizations, just not the chamber.

    I look at MBA(Midwest Booksellers Assoc.) as the most valuable organization I have joined. The dues are 1/3 of the chambers. the staff is smaller and I have many more tangible benefits. there are approx. 200 members. I get something out this membership every month, not just 2 days a year.

    When the chamber has more to offer, I’ll join. The chamber has to earn membership of the businesses, it is not an entitlement.

    April 8, 2008
  31. kiffi summa said:

    Paul, re: your April 8 post (#24) There are non-members of the Chamber who do BIG jobs to help make WinterWalk a success…The Key Kids.
    They do the luminaries, put them all out and light them and pick them up. It’s a huge number, maybe 800? They were asked by the Chamber to do it one year, and have been doing it ever since. One year they almost didn’t do it when it came up, because they had gotten a big lecture from someone at the Chamber about not singing or being rowdy while they were setting out, or picking up the luminaries. But being the good kids they are, they just bitched about it a little between themselves, and then said of course we’ll do it; we love making the town beautiful.

    April 9, 2008
  32. Retail Chamber members STILL are required to pony up extra dollars above and beyond their annual membership fees for Winter Walk. $50-$75…somewhere in there.
    Winter Walk is a unique event and not inexpensive to put on. Yet every year the Chamber is criticized by some retail members because they have to pay an annual membership fee and then $50-$75 more for WW fees. As a store Manager, I’m not against that per se…but a lot of retail owners don’t understand why they have to pay both fees. I think the Chamber needs to do a little better job in explaining to its retail members where those membership dollars go…and when money is spent on advertising for events such as Winter Walk, publicize that fact!
    My criticism is that there is a Retail Committee charged with coordinating and running events that bring customers downtown (or to Northfield in general) and with setting up seminars or educational sessions that help retail businesses. How are you supposed to do that with an annual operating budget of zero dollars?
    Give the RC an annual budget and you will see more events taking place both downtown and throughout the community. You’ll see, and we need, more advertising and promotion for these events. You’ll also see fewer members wondering where their membership dollars go. Some of this budget could be used to offset WW costs for Chamber members. And you might see more retail owners, like Jerry, joining the Chamber. I really can’t blame him for not.

    April 9, 2008
  33. David Ludescher said:

    David S: If the Retail Committee is funded, it just means that all the Chamber members have to pay for the Winter Walk, and not just the downtown members. A better solution is for the Chamber to pay its member’s portion, and then hit up every non-Chamber member for funding their share of the costs. Jerry would be willing to pay something (if he can afford it). Do you think other non-Chamber members would pony up money for their fair share?

    Jerry: I appreciate your comments. You are right; the Chamber needs to earn your business, and we will someday.

    April 9, 2008
  34. I think the Chamber paying the member’s portion of the Winter Walk fees is a fine solution. It eliminates the “double-dipping” into member’s funds, and eliminates members wondering why they have to pay additional money to fund WW.
    Collecting from non-members who benefit by the event whether they pay or not will always be a challenge. Honest answer? The majority of non-members probably won’t pay for these events because they (at least the downtown merchants) benefit from the event traffic anyway.
    My point, though, is not just about WW. If the goal of the Retail Committe is to host seminars that educate its members and to conduct even more events like Winter Walk, Crazy Days, and Ladies Night Out, how can that be accomplished with zero budget dollars? Frankly, it really feels to me like the Retail Committee is not considered important enough to be part of the annual Chamber of Commerce budgeting process.

    April 9, 2008
  35. David Ludescher said:

    David S: The Chamber’s goal is not to host more events, but to provide value to all of its members. If the events are serving a small portion of our membership, and non-members are taking advantage of the event without paying, I don’t see why the Chamber would want to commit even more dollars to the event.

    April 9, 2008
  36. Well, if that’s the attitude, then you’re still going to face disgruntled retail members who have to pay two fees.
    And really, doesn;t Winter Walk provide value to all of its members? The PR that Northfield receives and has received from it has been good for ALL of Northfield–not just a few retail members. I would dispute that Winter Walk only benefits a small portion of its membership.
    So what, in your mind, is the goal of the Retail Committee? What is its charge? If not hosting more events, what should it be doing?

    April 9, 2008
  37. John S. Thomas said:

    It sounds like there should be two Chambers… The Downtown Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

    All this infighting is counterproductive.

    The chamber will attract more members with honey… sending “Bubba and Guido” over from the Chamber Collection agency to ask non-members to pay for events may increase the short term funds, but it will not increase memberships. I do agree however, that there should be a common marketing goal between all downtown business owners. I do not think that should fall under the Chamber. The Chambers’ scope is much larger than downtown. Maybe the NDDC should take point on this?

    The Chamber must come up with a “service” that is a “value add” for non-members, thus encouraging membership. If your events are only serving selected portions of your membership, then you need to find balance and programs that are inclusive of other groups.

    Team building takes leadership, dedication, and motivation. I see a lot of activity where folks are trying to get things done, and I perceive a lot of obstacles where folks are beating their heads against a wall.

    As a resident looking in on something I do not entirely understand, I see three organizations trying to get something going with Downtown, but not a lot of co-support and team building. I perceive that this is changing, and it is getting better slowly, but still has a ways to go.

    I was thinking it might be a better model for the Chamber to focus more on all of the community and be more supportive of the NDDC and the EDA. The NDDC should be the focus organization for getting the downtown moving, and could work with the Chamber on Marketing, etc.

    The EDA could work on economic development within the community, and have an adviser that works with the Chamber, and an adviser that works with the NDDC.

    I am not sure which way to go… but it seems that all three groups either need to get along, and saddle up and get something done… or meet and carve up the kingdom, and go play in their respective neutral corners.

    In conclusion however, each organization needs to define themselves, and their goals, and offer a service that enhances their memberships and participation. In business, its all about the ROI (Return on Investment). No business owner wants to invest money in a task or organization if they are not going to get a positive return.

    Again, I am reading and learning… I do not see the whole picture, but in the last 5 years I have been here, it seems like there has been this cloud of inaction between these three groups hanging over downtown.

    Maybe the fresh faces and the spring will bring a renewed interest in getting things done.

    Thanks for the opportunity to post, and I hope that I can become more educated by the responses to my post.

    I would also hope, that a member of the EDA, a member of the NDDC, and a member of the chamber could post their goals and mission statement, so that the rest of us could get a better understanding of their scope and mission.

    Again, I do not know all the players, and the whole situation, but I would like to continue to participate in the discussion, and see if the community can help through offering new ideas.

    Regards,
    John Thomas

    April 9, 2008
  38. David Ludescher said:

    John: Thanks for the post. There is an inaccurate perception that the Chamber, NDDC, and the EDA are fighting because they are the ones discussing the issues. In fact, the three organizations are all tackling the same problem from 3 different sides for downtown issues, and 2 sides outside the downtown.

    The Chamber is the business of business; the EDA is the government of business; and the NDDC is the watchdog of downtown. All have and should have a function for the downtown. All have worthy missions.

    There are two tricky parts to this coordination.

    The first part is changing the public perception that the most important aspect of downtown is how it looks. The most important aspect is economic ; if you can’t make money, i.e. Jacobsen’s, then you have to close. If the downtown is to stay nice, then the public should pay for it. To have a Historical Preservation Committee or Building Official requiring certain changes makes business more expensive without putting the cost back to the taxpayers, who are requesting the good looks.

    The second part should be easier, but it not proving to be so. The second part is getting all of the downtown owners together so that they work toward a common goal for the downtown, and all share equitably. Several years ago, Joe Grundhoefer, Victor Summa, and others had the idea of a Special Services District downtown. It would have operated like a townhouse association. Everyone pays a fair share, and gets the advantage of the unified services. As I recall, only about 20% of the downtown owners were interested. Cost was the main factor.

    A logical question might be how much the taxpayers would be willing to contribute so that the downtown district could have some kind of overarching downtown management district. I would suggest that this expense be shared only by the residences, and not the businesses. What business wants their taxes to go up so that downtown businesses can have a competitive and economic advantage? Why is that fair?

    April 9, 2008
  39. Paul Fried said:

    I’m still a bit confused, but glad to see David L. has switched to a committment to earn Jerry’s membership rather than questioning why he didn’t help fund a retail event, or whatever.

    It would seem that if the Chamber funded some retail events that are primarily downtown, and some that are primarily elsewhere, there should not be such protectionism of one or another turf. Some members are downtown, some are elsewhere.

    David L., where does all the funding go, with dues so high? Or is the Chamber membership so small that it only funds a small staff and office, but no retail events?

    April 9, 2008
  40. Adam Elg said:

    David L.

    Does the Chamber serve the community as a whole or it’s members only. If it’s members only? It should stick to educating and informing it member about relevant issues to business. If it is to serve it’s members and the community at large, it should host the events without regard to membership.

    Also, I dislike your description of the NDDC. Watchdog is inaccurate and has negative connotations. I would say it’s better described as an advocate of downtown businesses.

    John T.
    We have an organization that serves downtown Northfield. It is the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation. There is no need for two Chambers. And yes, the current Chamber is The Greater Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

    April 9, 2008
  41. Paul Fried said:

    Another thought:
    The Chamber already has some good sense to have sliding membership fees based on business income, so the businesses that make more money pay more in dues. Great. But there are some small businesses and start-ups that are struggling idealsists, staying in business, but not making as much as some other businesses. Owners should not be criticized for not making as much as other businesses; sometimes people like to do what they like to do, and not make profit top priority, and if they stay in business and are content with their profit margins, fine. If another business is raking in the dough, and in it mostly for the money, or in it because they love that form of work, fine. Whatever. More power to ’em.

    Chamber membership fees require more of businesses that profit more. But some smaller businesses and start-ups can’t afford the Chamber’s sliding scale. Some of these small businesses in Nfld include businesses based out of the home, which federal statistics say account for the vast majority of new businesses. If the Chamber had any sense, they might wake up and smell the home-based start-ups: if this is where most new businesses start, why not have some accessible membership they can afford? Nope, the Chamber’s not interested.

    Then folks describe the situation where they ask $50 or $75 of each business, regardless of how much they take in, on average, from an event like Winterwalk. It’s a stretch to hear David L. ask Jerry about his contribs to the fund, and to speak of “milking the cow.” Some businesses can afford it, and perhaps some start-ups can’t, so get over it. Those that are already raking in the most, on a regular basis, and from those events in particular, might be asked to provide more of the funding — if the goal is really, as David L. says, a reasonable and equitable arrangement.

    Furthermore, if a business is not located downtown, there are still economic benefits they receive from downtown retail events. If we have a thriving economy and a strong downtown, this is some of what attracts folks to Northfield and makes the real estate values a bit higher than some surrounding towns.

    April 9, 2008
  42. Paul Fried said:

    Last comment from me for the night:

    Of all the $50 and $75 fees or donations collected for Winterwalk, how much of that gets donated to The Key Kids for their decorating work? (See Kiffi’s comment #31.) Or donated to them from the Chamber, which has many members who benefit? Or from the NNews, which takes in extra ad revenue to publicize those retail events?

    Or do some businesses and organizations (and I’m not talking about Jerry here) feel it’s ok to just keep milking some cows for free?

    April 9, 2008
  43. Adam Elg said:

    John T

    Regarding my last post. Sorry I skimmed your remarks. You’re well aware of the potential for the NDDC. Thanks for chiming in.

    April 9, 2008
  44. David Ludescher said:

    Let me be clear about a couple of things about the Chamber: 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. This includes downtown, “Southfield”, Dundas, and the greater Northfield area.

    Here were some of my frustrations as president:
    Chamber is often overlooked, such as on the Transportation committee, and initially, the Comprehensive Plan;
    Much of Northfield is critical of business, until it comes time to sponsor some event or pay for something;
    Some businesses milk the Chamber’s cow, by trying to get services but not paying anything.

    I think Chamber members can change this culture by actively participating in City governance, saying no to sponsorships that don’t make business sense, and encouraging their business partners to be Chamber members.

    As my frustrations increased, so did my hopefulness. It would have been easy to walk away from the year bitter because of all the frustrations. But, I have come to realize that the Chamber is vitally important to Northfield’s future – more so than in other towns where business may be celebrated beyond its merits. The Chamber lends a needed balance to the “Chamber of Non-Commerce”. For that reason, the Chamber will be around a long time.

    April 9, 2008
  45. John S. Thomas said:

    David L. ,

    Could you elaborate a bit more:

    A logical question might be how much the taxpayers would be willing to contribute so that the downtown district could have some kind of overarching downtown management district. I would suggest that this expense be shared only by the residences, and not the businesses.

    Why the taxpayers? Why not the customers? Why not another one of those .0025 cent local sales taxes? Why not leverage a portion of the lodging tax?

    I don’t want to elaborate too much here, but my biggest pet peeve is the fact that several downtown businesses just do not get it. (I could rant for days on this subject…) My question. How are we supposed to support them as customers, when they cannot even open on time in the morning with product ready to sell?

    How would a downtown management district that would help me with that?

    Thanks everyone for the information.

    April 9, 2008
  46. I have been watching this feed since it came up and I was wondering would the Chamber be open to having a focus group or a, this is what the Chamber does type of thing. I know last year they sponsored a meeting at the golf club and I found it very informational but I don’t know if anything came from it.

    April 10, 2008
  47. David Ludescher said:

    John: I know the downtown businesses understand. They have to go home every night and look in their wallet. I don’t know if the general public understands that you can’t just legislate a nice downtown; someone has to pay for it.

    April 10, 2008
  48. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    As a member of the general public, and possibly of the “Chamber of Non-Commerce,” as well (I’m not sure what you meant by that) I have been following this thread with great interest.

    It seems to me that if you want the Chamber to succeed at fostering a thriving, vibrant Northfield business community – or even if you just want to promote your members’ businesses – 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.”

    I’d suggest that the new head of the Chamber think more broadly about the role that the Chamber might take in the community, and that he or she undertakes an effort to improve the image of the Chamber within the community. Clearly, many of us are unclear on what the Chamber is for, why we should care about it, or why we should listen to it.

    I think Hayes is right: a public informational/listening meeting would be a good start.

    April 10, 2008
  49. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    Oh, and thank you for Winter Walk. Events like that are great for the community, and go a long way towards fostering a positive impression of the value of the Chamber.

    April 10, 2008
  50. Tracy Davis said:

    I just read through all the comments on this thread to try to catch up.

    Based on my experience as a member of the EDA for six years and a downtown retailer for three or four, I don’t believe that either the Chamber or the EDA really represents, or provides valuable services for, most independent retailers here. That’s okay; it’s fine for organizations to have a particular focus or mission, and they don’t have to be all-inclusive. The EDA’s mission is to increase jobs and commercial tax base, so they focus on the kinds of businesses that are likely to have a more significant impact on those areas – which are typically not small-scale independent retailers.

    As David L. points out, the Chamber doesn’t really exist to benefit Northfield businesses as a whole; it exists to benefit its members, and most businesses that join Chambers of Commerce are larger-scale operations that have line items in their budget for that kind of thing. Again, maybe that’s fine; I just don’t think the Chamber should position itself as a “business advocate” when in fact it’s a “member advocate”, and the interests of those two may be quite different.

    If the Chamber wants to increase its membership among the downtown retailers, or other small-business owners and/or startups, they need to start *really* listening to what these prospective members want, or expect, or could benefit from. Too often, it feels like the Chamber simply expects people to value what it offers without determining whether or not it’s really filling a need.

    April 10, 2008
  51. John S. Thomas said:

    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.

    April 10, 2008
  52. […] resides or with whom to effectively address it. I thought of this while reading Griff’s post about the Chamber when he wrote about why he hasn’t joined. If Griff wanted seek a specific change in the […]

    April 10, 2008
  53. David Ludescher said:

    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?

    April 10, 2008
  54. 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.

    April 11, 2008
  55. David Ludescher said:

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

    April 11, 2008
  56. 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.

    April 11, 2008
  57. Tracy Davis said:

    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.

    April 11, 2008
  58. David Ludescher said:

    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.

    April 11, 2008
  59. Ally Beyer said:

    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!

    April 12, 2008
  60. Jerry Bilek said:

    Well said Ally! I agree completely.

    April 12, 2008
  61. Adam Elg said:

    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.

    April 12, 2008
  62. David Ludescher said:

    Adam: Any Chamber member can call Kathy directly to get one-on-one attention.

    April 12, 2008
  63. Mary Rossing said:

    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.

    April 12, 2008
  64. Holly Cairns said:

    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.

    April 12, 2008
  65. Griff Wigley said:

    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!

    April 13, 2008
  66. Griff Wigley said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  67. David Ludescher said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  68. Paul Fried said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  69. 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.

    April 13, 2008
  70. David Ludescher said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  71. Holly Cairns said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  72. Holly Cairns said:

    why did my last comment show here? Should have been underneath the other post.

    April 13, 2008
  73. Adam Elg said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  74. John S. Thomas said:

    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!

    April 13, 2008
  75. John S. Thomas said:

    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.

    April 13, 2008
  76. David Ludescher said:

    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?

    April 13, 2008
  77. kiffi summa said:

    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.

    April 14, 2008
  78. Britt Ackerman said:

    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.

    April 14, 2008
  79. David Ludescher said:

    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?

    April 14, 2008
  80. Britt Ackerman said:

    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?

    April 14, 2008
  81. 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.

    April 14, 2008
  82. 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.

    April 14, 2008
  83. Paul Fried said:

    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….

    April 14, 2008
  84. David Ludescher said:

    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!!

    April 14, 2008
  85. 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?

    April 15, 2008
  86. Mary Rossing said:

    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.

    April 15, 2008
  87. Anne Bretts said:

    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.

    April 15, 2008
  88. John S. Thomas said:

    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.

    April 15, 2008
  89. Griff Wigley said:

    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.

    April 16, 2008
  90. David Ludescher said:

    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.

    April 17, 2008
  91. Paul Fried said:

    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?

    April 17, 2008
  92. David Ludescher said:

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

    July 7, 2008
  93. 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.

    July 7, 2008
  94. David Ludescher said:

    Hayes: Thanks.

    July 7, 2008
  95. kiffi summa said:

    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…

    May 1, 2010
  96. Ray Cox said:

    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) =-.

    May 1, 2010
  97. David Ludescher said:

    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.

    May 3, 2010
  98. Jerry Bilek said:

    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) =-.

    May 3, 2010
  99. kiffi summa said:

    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!

    May 3, 2010
  100. David Ludescher said:

    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.

    May 3, 2010