City of Northfield (MN) – Comprehensive Economic Development Plan

ChallengeNorthfield, Minnesota boasts a number of assets and a unique character that is absent from many of America’s small towns and suburbs. An historic downtown, burgeoning riverfront, and distinctive retailers make Northfield a popular destination. Two nationally recognized liberal arts colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf, create intellectual capital that extends beyond students and faculty to a wide variety of cultural offerings for the community as a whole. These attributes, in addition to a strong employment base and easy access to the Twin Cities, create conditions under which growth is highly likely. These advantages, however, are no guarantee that growth will occur in a way that is economically viable. In recognition of this fact, the Northfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) engaged TIP Strategies, Inc., to develop a comprehensive economic development plan for the city. The plan is a response to the leadership’s desire to make economic development a priority while balancing the community’s desire to protect its identity as a “freestanding” community and maintain its sense of place.

ApproachTIP took an asset-based approach to this work, focusing on strategies designed to maximize Northfield’s existing advantages. We began by conducting an economic assessment of the community. In addition to this quantitative analysis, our work was informed by interviews with local businesses and community leaders, as well as with developers and others in the Twin Cities region. The findings from this phase were refined based on input from stakeholder meetings held in November 2005 and January 2006. From the assessment we prepared a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) which provided the foundation for the development of specific strategies, including target industries.

OutcomeThe resulting plan provides city officials with a guide for positioning Northfield for future commercial and industrial growth while holding on to its unique attributes. Active promotion of economic development by increasing the availability of industrial land, aggressive business recruitment, and talent attraction was the central theme of the plan. Other recommendations included strengthening the local retail environment, increasing the range of professional services, and providing a range of housing options. Specific strategies for accomplishing these objectives include leveraging the city’s relationships with St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, conducting a formal alumni recruitment campaign, and focusing on opportunities for the expansion and revitalization of development along the Cannon River.

TIP Contact Jon Roberts

Photo credit Caleb Williams

Photo credit Caleb Williams