Back to Basics: ABCD in Northfield (and it’s not about education)

A few years ago, when I served on the EDA, we invited Geralyn Sheehan to present the concept of Asset-Based Community Development.

“Community development” is a rather catch-all term which generally refers to infrastructure improvements, business development, and city or regional planning, sometimes crossing over into the social realm of citizen involvement. “Asset-based community development” (ABCD) includes all the above, but with a major focus on social capital in addition to fiscal and natural resources. (For more about ABCD, visit the ABCD Institute or read this abstract.)

The basic idea is simple: Build on your strengths. In order to do so, strengths must first be identified accurately. Then, the next logical step is to develop those strengths as differentiating factors for business retention and recruitment, civic planning, etc.

TIP Strategies incorporated some aspects of ABCD in their Economic Development Plan for Northfield (complete PDF here) . In their professional, objective opinion, they identified Northfield’s unique strengths as:

  • Highly educated workforce
  • Authentic downtown
  • The presence of St Olaf and Carleton Colleges

But in addition to the combination of assets above which are readily visible to the outside world, I believe Northfield has other assets of remarkable strength which may not be as easily recognized, but nonetheless contribute to the “asset base” upon which we can build.

For example, Northfield has a large number of people involved in significant volunteer efforts, both civic and charitable. We also have a thriving and growing online community dialog, which is unusual nationwide (and particularly so in a town of our size). These are just two examples, and I’m sure there are many others.

Can you help me identify more? They may be difficult to quantify, but it helps paint a more complete picture of this community.


  1. Anne Bretts said:

    Please, could we have a thread that lists the five most promising available buildings or lots, names the owners and talks directly about what businesses would be most likely to want to lease or buy they? Could we have a thread about the five latest businesses to move/build/expand and why they made their decision?
    Yes, Northfield is a wonderful town, but there are an awful lot of wonderful towns out there. It’s great to have a wonderful town, but you have success by setting concrete goals and meeting them, one step at a time. For example, it would be delightful to have an arts economy, but the immediate issue may be that there is a wonderful gallery space available for $2,000 a month and these are the kind of artists who would fit well and is there anyone out there who might be interested.
    Sure it sounds like a glorified classified, but it seems that a weekly or monthly feature on available properties and buildings and recent successful business ventures would be more helpful to thousands of readers around the country than another esoteric glance in the community mirror.

    September 15, 2008
  2. Mary Schier said:

    Here’s one that I’ve noticed more in the past 5 or 10 years: Northfield seems to have lots of “young-old” people–both those that have lived here for decades and new arrivals. These are folks around or past retirement age who have good health and a decent income, which gives them the freedom/time to be involved community activities. Nonprofits in town should be (and are) tapping into this asset.

    September 15, 2008
  3. Larry DeBoer said:

    We are 6 miles East of a major US (I-35) Interstate Highway, we are about 15 miles West of a major four-lane highway (52), and we have a 52,000 population base to support retail and commercial and provide a jobs base. From Menards sales records we serve people half way to Mankato on the SW, half way to Rochester on the SE, Owatonna to the South, Cannon Falls and Randolph to the East and past Farmington and Elko/New Market to the North.

    September 15, 2008
  4. There is a post on dated 9/18/08 titled “River Walk Arts Quarter Launched”. This is an ABCD opportunity which has been selected by and is being brought to life through a partnership with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and its Town Meeting Initiative process.

    I learned about the grant on July 15th through David Bly’s website. Our team delivered a complete proposal to SMIF on August 15th. September 15th we received notice that the grant was awarded.

    Now the work begins. We are assembling our ‘working resources’ team which will be in place and operating by October 15th. Our first event will be during Winter Walk and we expect to have a 2-yr event schedule in place by Feb 1st.

    Contact me – we solicit your support, your knowledge and skills, your community-wide links, and your enthusiasm.

    September 19, 2008
  5. Tracy Davis said:

    Thank you for the info, Dean. The post you refer to is here.

    September 20, 2008
  6. kiffi summa said:

    Dean: the NFNews reported in their headline that the City received the grant funds… What is the truth of this?

    I thought it was a coalition that you personally put together, with support letters from the City, the NDDC, etc.

    Que Pasa?

    September 21, 2008
  7. Holly Cairns said:

    More Northfield assets:

    Latino population and diverse shopping experience = great.

    Shopping which is targeted towards all economic interests (yes, the big boxes are close and we don’t have to drive far to shop there, or we can shop downtown for gifts).

    Careful building which allows for high density living near huge single family homes, which ultimately creates a blended neighborhood. Side note: High density should be built first, that’s a problem with our current building plan.

    Youth programs which encourage leadership and hope.

    Community events in bridge square which entertain and bring people together.

    An active and informative museum and a fourishing historical society.

    CAC programs and facilities designed for help, education, and a better community.

    September 22, 2008

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