In January, Northfield’s Cardinal Glass was cited in the Strib for receiving “$7.7 million of new federal funds to convert its residential-glass factory into a solar glass-coating plant.” (A tip of the blogger hat to Larry DeBoer for alerting me to it.)
I don’t know to what extent the people involved with Northfield’s economic development ecosystem (see organizations below) are pursuing green collar manufacturing jobs. I found a few mentions:
In the never-ending and always growing area of my life known as the “to-read list”, I recently worked through another item. It was a special section on economic development in the July 28th, Wall Street Journal.
The article looked at seven cities around the world showing visible signs of economic vigor. Lessons were drawn for those who might be interested in the subject.
Colorado Springs, Colorado followed a familiar paradigm. The public and private sector worked together to keep a major employer in town. In this case, they agreed to build two new downtown headquarters and upgrade a nearby training facility to win a fifteen-year lease from the United States Olympic Committee.
Rural Kentucky blazed a path toward a new paradigm. ConnectKentucky, a large non-profit, worked to expand the the availability and affordability of broadband internet connections in the state’s rural areas. In another private-public partnership, internet access increased from 60% to 95% in a drive to spur economic development.
Omaha, Nebraska in some ways reversed the demographic trends of the last fifty years. The community “swallowed suburbs” and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in arts and entertainment. The article noted that “lots of other cities have tried similar strategies, but Omaha had a singular advantage: strong civic leadership”. Omaha also has many Warren Buffet-made millionaires, a reputation for wholesome Midwest values and top-notch schools, and follows a strict annexation policy: tax revenue from any annexed district must exceed its debt service.
Wismar, Germany focused its economic investment on addressing transportation issues. The territory in the former East Germany was relatively unconnected to the rest of the country by road. Germany’s investment in a new autobahn opened up markets for existing businesses. Economic-development experts credit the highway for doing much of the “heavy lifting”.
Kobe, Japan shifted economic focus after a devastating earthquake. Instead of concentrating on rebuilding the shipping industry, public and private leaders decided to create Japan’s premier bio-medical center. Interestingly enough, they traveled to the Mayo Clinic to get ideas.
El Paso, Texas, is pursuing the old fashioned route. Private investors are putting their own money at risk. They first hired a consulting firm to create a downtown redevelopment plan, which envision different zones for entertainment, history, housing and shopping. The City Council voted to form a downtown tax-reinvestment district where increased tax revenues would help finance new streets and sidewalks. It appears to me that the jury is still out on this example.
Kalamazoo, Michigan has pursued perhaps the most non-traditional approach. They’re investing in their school children. Through a program called The Kalamazoo Promise, the community is providing from partial to full college tuition to all graduating seniors. Corporate executives credit the program for attracting 150 jobs from Kaiser Aluminum, 400 jobs from MPI Research, 160 jobs from Fabri-Kal, 25 jobs from W. Soule & Co., 12 jobs from Tourney Consulting Group, and 50 jobs from Polymer Solutions Inc. As a Kaiser Vice President said, “we are building a sophisticated facility with new technology, and we want well-educated people who will work with us and want to live in Kalamazoo”.
Northfield will soon hire it’s third Economic Development staff person in the past two years, the fourth if you count the interim work done by Brian O’Connell between Deanna Kuennan and Charlene Coulombe-Fiore. A Comprehensive Economic Development Plan has been in place during that period, and the EDA has moved steadily forward on one, rather substantial, piece of it: annexation.
There has been some continuity of leadership, both on the EDA and other economic development groups within the city. Ideally, there is some clear, stated and transparent agreement among our community’s leaders on the five plus or minus two top priorities for economic development, including the necessary capital investment, as well as the required political support and social capital behind those leaders and their priorities, for the new permanent staff person to implement.
Perhaps Northfield can be one of the Wall Street Journal’s “Success Stories” for 2009.
Art Monaghan, Northfielder and a partner with Granite Equity Partners, (4th of July photo on left — click to enlarge — is with two of his partners but I’m not 100% certain they’re the Granite types) alerted a few folks to this article which appeared on the front page of the June 8 edition of Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal: Northfield striving to become tech town. It got forwarded to me eventually.
The Northfielder featured in the article (in the Biz Journal photo on the right) was Lee Runzheimer, the executive director of the Northfield Enterprise Center at the time the article was written. He resigned shortly it was published to become the CFO of ID Insight, the company he helped lure to Northfield. Details in this 6/16 article in the Northfield News: Director of NEC resigns.
Here’s the Biz Journal paragraph that helps paint our economic future as a mix of Geeks of Silicon Valley with the Beats of North Beach (click the screenshot image to see a large gif of the article):
ID Insight Inc., which is developing software to combat identity theft, said last week it will relocate its St. Paul headquarters to Northfield in August… ID Insight looked at about a half-dozen Minnesota communities for its permanent headquarters before settling on Northfield, said CEO Adam Elliott. The financial incentives helped, but Elliott has other ties to the city; about half his employees are alums of St. Olaf College, and about 60 percent of his board of directors went there, too.
When Lee Runzheimer, executive director of the Northfield Enterprise Center, suggested that Northfield could one day be a sort of Midwest version of Palo Alto, Calif., Elliott said he didn’t completely laugh it off. The Northfield Enterprise Center is a nonprofit arm of the city’s economic development authority that helps expand area businesses.
“It’s got kind of a beatnik culture,” Elliott said. “We bought in a little bit to the vision.”
Also mentioned in the article: 3C Capital Partners, a Northfield investment fund spearheaded by Rich Falck and Brett Reese; and Richard Garcia, CEO of Northfield-based videogame developer Monster Games.
I wonder, though, if we shouldn’t also be pursuing the green collar manufacturing that NY Times columnist Tom Friedman talks about in his column today, The Green Road Less Traveled:
O.K., Friedman, so I.B.M. is now in the traffic biz. Who cares? I care, because it underscores a fundamental truth about green technology: you can’t make a product greener, whether it’s a car, a refrigerator or a traffic system, without making it smarter – smarter materials, smarter software or smarter design.
What can many U.S. companies still manufacture? They can manufacture things that are smart – that have a lot of knowledge content in them, like a congestion pricing network for a whole city. What do many Chinese companies manufacturer? They manufacture things that can be made with a lot of cheap labor, like the rubber tires on your car. Which jobs are most easily outsourced? The ones vulnerable to cheap labor. Which jobs are hardest to outsource? Those that require a lot of knowledge.
So what does all this mean? It means that to the extent that we make “green” standards part of everything we design and manufacture, we create “green collar” jobs that are much more difficult to outsource. I.B.M. and other tech companies are discovering a mother lode of potential new business for their high-wage engineers and programmers thanks to the fact that mayors all over the world are thinking about going green through congestion pricing systems.