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Looking for a Republican suburban woman and other thoughts

MinnPost ran a story last week on prospective GOP candidates for Governor.  Of note in that story was a quote from prominent Republican operative Ben Golnik lamenting the fact that “the ideal candidate — a female from the suburbs” wasn’t out there.  As such, I found it interesting that the name of State Senator Julianne Ortman didn’t come up.  Ortman’s resume — in the Senate over a decade, former Deputy Majority Leader, a caucus leader on tax and legal issues — stacks up comparably against many of the other named contenders.  And she’s one of the Senate GOP’s better communicators, as evidenced by her continuing high profile despite not holding a formal leadership position anymore.

I have no idea if Ortman is interested in higher office — perhaps she’s signaled she’s not, which is why she didn’t make this piece.  But it seems that for many, the list of women available for statewide runs in the Minnesota Republican Party ends with Laura Brod now that Amy Koch is out of the Senate.

Given that the current list of prospective candidates all have significant question marks as it relates to their ability to either earn the Republican endorsement or win a general election — Sen. Dave Thompson might be too conservative for a statewide election, Rep. Kurt Zellers was widely criticized for his leadership (or lack thereof) last session as Speaker of the House, Sen. David Hann was an also-ran in the 2010 race for Governor, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has perhaps spent too much time on gun issues for the base’s liking, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has already lost one statewide race (Attorney General in 2006) — it seems maybe the list of usual suspects should be expanded.  But, of course, I doubt the Republicans are looking to me for advice.

Here are some other things happening in the community:

  • In case you haven’t already heard, two new restaurants opened in Chaska in the last week or so:  BullChicks in Chaska Commons, and Egg & Pie Diner in downtown.  I’m hearing positive word-of-mouth on both.
  • The two facility taskforces convened by the Eastern Carver County School District continue to make progress.  The High School taskforce is wrestling with the question of balancing programming and demographics between Chaska and Chanhassen High Schools.  Meanwhile, the Early Childhood through Middle School task force is working on finding the best way to deal with overcrowded schools on the west side of the District as well as finding a permanent home for the La Academia Spanish immersion program.  I am a member of the Early Childhood through Middle School task force  and I can attest to the difficult challenges that lie ahead here.  Over the next few months, there will be opportunities for public input on potential changes — I encourage you to keep your eyes open and attend those sessions when they occur.

Highway 212 expansion bill introduced and other happenings

Here’s a roundup of some of the happenings around the area:

  • A bill has been introduced in the State Legislature (chief authored in the House by Rep. Ernie Leidiger and in the Senate by Sen. Julianne Ortman) to expand U.S. Highway 212 to four lanes from Jonathan Carver Parkway to County Road 43 in Dahlgren Township.  Also included in the bill is $8 million for construction of an interchange at US-212 and County Road 140 in Southwest Chaska.  This bill would be a critical next step in making sure that US-212 is built out to four lanes to Norwood-Young America.  Additionally, the CR-140 interchange is critical to the success of the Southwest Chaska Master Plan recently ratified by the City Council.  This is a good bill and I hope it will be included in the omnibus transportation package this year.
  • State Representative Joe Hoppe submitted his year-end campaign finance report on February 25, some three-and-one-half weeks late.  Of note in Hoppe’s report is that he collected over $1,700 in “special source” funding in 2012 that he was forced to return.  “Special sources” include lobbyists, political party units, and political action committees.  Additionally, Hoppe’s penchant for filing late in 2012 cost him over $2,600 in late fees with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.  Some fiscal responsibility…
  • The City of Chaska City Council meeting tonight has been cancelled.
  • The Chaska Hawks girls basketball team (ranked #7 in Class AAA) will play Richfield (ranked #2 in Class AAA) on Thursday night with a berth in the State Tournament on the line.  The Hawks romped past Benilde-St. Margaret 69-41 on Saturday to reach the section final.  The game will be at 7 p.m. at Minnetonka High School.
  • On the Chaska restaurant front, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is open in Chaska Commons, while downtown’s Egg & Pie Diner is headed for a mid-March opening.  Construction is also underway at the future location of BullChicks in Chaska Commons.

Chaska Area News and Notes: April 23, 2012

Assorted news and observations from the last few days:

  • I finally got down to Patron Mexican Restaurant over the weekend, and I highly recommend it!  Good food and fairly priced.  Service was a touch slow, but I was willing to live with it because it was nice to see a downtown Chaska restaurant that was busy.  Check out their Facebook page for more information.
  • Chaska Middle School West math teacher Michelle Schnaare was named District 112’s Teacher of the Year on Saturday night.  Schnaare receives a $3,000 grant to use on a classroom project of her design.  Congratulations to her and the other finalists:  Chris Commers (Chaska High School, Social Studies), Sara Falkofske (Chanhassen High School, Science), Marie Foster (Chaska Elementary, 4th grade) and Angie Kissock (Chanhassen High,  Physical Fitness).
  • I attended the first annual Pride of Chaska BBQ Bash on Friday night benefiting Chaska High School.  A great event that raised about $50,000 towards building a competition-caliber softball field at the school as well as acquiring a marimba for the music program.
  • After a series of neighborhood meetings, the plan for Griep Park is being finalized and will be reviewed by the Chaska Park Board at next month’s meeting, which will be on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center.
  • Supporters of Ron Paul for President have been very successful in getting their delegates through to the upper levels of the Republican caucus process.  Over the weekend, it was reported that Paul supporters earned 20 of the 24 Congressional District delegate spots, despite finishing a distant second to Rick Santorum in the non-binding vote at the precinct caucuses in February.  This is not going over well in some quarters of the party.

Chaska Herald column, April 5, 2012: City needs to stick to the plan

Below is the commentary I wrote for this week’s Chaska Herald:

There has been significant angst expressed in the Chaska Herald’s letters to the editor and in various online forums about some of the recent happenings in the city’s business environment.  Let’s put a little perspective around some of these events.

In January, the abrupt closing of the Chaska Rex movie theater again raised concerns about the viability of businesses in downtown Chaska.  Letter writers in the March 15 and March 22 editions of the Herald called for more attention from the City Council, media outlets, and residents to the situation.

The challenges that downtown Chaska faces didn’t just develop in the last couple of years; it’s been an ongoing process for a long time.  I haven’t lived here as long as many of you (nine years and counting now), but one letter writer pointed out significant business closings downtown going back to the late 1980s.  People can and will go back and dissect things the City Council did or didn’t do, ways society has changed, and ways our community has changed to determine why things developed the way they did.

But what we need to focus on as a community is: how do we go forward from here?  Many of the critics point the finger at the City Council.  I’ll certainly agree that the Council has at times seemed slow to recognize or react to the problems downtown.

The Downtown Master Plan should change that equation, though.  The final chapter of the document sets out a number of guidelines for implementation of the Plan.  It is critical that the Council and city staff follows the prescriptions in that Plan and start addressing some of the “low-hanging fruit” that can provide immediate benefits to the downtown community.

I’m hopeful this can occur.  A few years ago, questions about parking downtown would be answered by references to statistical studies that showed that their formulas said there was more than enough parking downtown – ignoring the real facts that people don’t park their cars based on statistical studies.  Now, the city seems to understand that if people think there’s a parking problem, then there’s a parking problem.  Perception is – in cases like this – reality.

The Plan calls for annual action plans to be created and published, so the public can be aware of how progress is being made on these objectives.  Key things that can be done now include:  improving signage in and around downtown and across Chaska to funnel people to the downtown region, continue work with key partners (like Southwest Metro Transit) to improve parking options downtown, and develop marketing strategies and collateral for attracting businesses, customers, and tourists to downtown.

A great deal of time, effort, and taxpayer expense has gone into the creation of this Plan.  It is up to us as citizens to hold city officials accountable for carrying through and making the changes prescribed in the Plan, however.  It is also up to us as citizens to recognize that the city can’t do everything on its own.  The city can do much to make Chaska an attractive place to own and operate a business, but it is ultimately up to those business owners to elect to invest in Chaska.

This point brings us to the second event that concerned some in our community:  the approval of the building of a second McDonald’s location in the city.

Everybody has got their own personal favorite restaurant or retail store that they’d love to see in Chaska.  From Taco Bell to Whole Foods, from IHOP to Trader Joe’s, just about every name has been bandied about by someone.

In the end, though, what we would like has to bump up against the reality of who wants to make the investment in our community.  The Hazeltine Plaza development was platted in 2006 to have up to three small- to medium-box sized retail stores next to Kohl’s, plus two small Chaska Commons style strip malls that could each hold up to nine businesses each, plus two fast-food restaurant pads.

Yet, Kohl’s has sat up there alone since September 2008.

It would be nice to turn up our noses at a second McDonald’s because there’s a long line of other companies willing to snap up that spot and build there instead.  But, unfortunately, that isn’t the case right now.  And yes, there’s concern about whether or not this area can support two McDonald’s.  On the other hand, no company has a better record of picking sites across the globe than they do.

So, let’s welcome McDonald’s investment in Chaska and hope that their example inspires others to follow.  With hard work and cooperation across our city, we can build thriving business communities in downtown and on top of the hill.

Chaska Herald: Patron Mexican Restaurant opens

The Chaska Herald reports that Patron Mexican Restaurant opened yesterday in the former La Quebrada/River City Pub/Chestnuts location at the corner of MN-41 and Second Street in downtown Chaska.

No website is yet available for the restaurant.

Chaska Rex movie theater closes

The Chaska Herald is reporting that the Chaska Rex movie theater closed yesterday.  The Rex was part of the Five Star Cinemas group which also operates theaters in Chanhassen, Buffalo, and Excelsior.  Per the company’s website, gift cards and rewards cards will be honored at those theaters.

This is another tough blow for the downtown business district.  Hopefully, implementation work on the Downtown Master Plan and an improving economy can help the area begin to prosper.

Let’s try it again: Patron Mexican Restaurant opening downtown [UPDATED]

The Chaska Herald reports that Patron Mexican Restaurant will be taking over the site at the northwest corner of MN-41 and Second Street.  La Quebrada was the most recent tenant of the site, closing earlier in the year.  Previously, the site was Mi Casa, River City Pub, and Chestnuts.  Hopefully, Patron will find better success!  No opening date has been set yet.

[UPDATE, February 17]:  Patron is open!

Job creation is about young businesses, not small businesses

Building off last week’s post about disturbing labor market trends, I want to look at some additional insights from John Haltiwanger’s research regarding job creation.

We hear commonly that small business is the engine of job growth in this country.  But, if you look at the numbers closely, the reality is more complex.  As we’ve previously discussed, the American small business sector is rather small compared to other developed economies.

And, there’s no doubt that small businesses have accounted for much of the job destruction in the recent recession.  Falling incomes and declining confidence from consumers has decimated many small retailers and restaurants — as we’ve seen in spades here in Chaska.

But when you think about it, many small businesses aren’t likely to be the engines of job creation.  The number of jobs in the local dry cleaners or a particular fast-food restaurant is going to be capped at some point.

Where the growth comes from is young businesses — large and small.  This is intuitive, if you think about it, and Haltiwanger has the data to back it up.  Young businesses tend to break down into three categories over their first few years — they either fail, they grow until they reach their natural limit (think of the dry cleaners), or they grow significantly and quickly.

One real problem we’re having in the economy is that business start-ups — the number of young businesses — are at historically low levels according to analysis done by economist Jared Bernstein.  That’s perhaps not surprising given the difficulties of the current economy and the challenges many entrepreneurs are having getting access to credit.  What’s more surprising, though, is that the rate of such start-ups has been falling for quite awhile, at least back to the year 2000.

Why is that?  Everybody has their list of reasons, including:

  • lack of availability of health care for entrepreneurs reduces incentives to strike out on one’s own
  • financial resources diverted to (and then lost in) the housing bubble
  • excessive wealth concentration has reduced the pool of entrepreneurs
  • excessive wealth concentration has reduced the overall demand level in the economy
  • regulations and taxes reduce the incentives to strike out on one’s own
Regardless of what you think about the causes, this is the framework in which we need to work on the solutions.  We need a more dynamic economy, we need to encourage start-ups — and particularly those that have the potential be in that third group:  those that can grown significantly and quickly.
We should expect our policymakers to end the notion that size is what matters in terms of encouraging job creation, and focus instead on the industries and types of firms that have the potential to grow significantly and quickly.  Focus on how we can encourage people to take the risk, and focus on how we can build the support — in the private and public sectors — to help these young businesses be successful.

Surly passes on Chaska

The staff report for the October 17 City Council meeting includes an update from City Administrator Matt Podhradsky on the wooing of Surly Brewing Company to build on the former Chaska Building Center site.

According to Podhradsky, Tegra Group (which is handling the firm handling the site search for Surly) notified the city earlier this week that Chaska was not selected to be a finalist for the new brewery.  Tegra Group felt the site was “nice”, but did not have the central location that Surly is looking for.

Feeling a little Surly? [UPDATED]

After its successful drive last legislative session to get approval to build a “destination brewery”, the Surly Brewing Company is moving forward on identifying potential sites for the building.  According to the Star Tribune, one of the cities stepping forward as a suitor is Chaska.

Don’t get your hopes up yet, as Surly’s current home — Brooklyn Center — is expected to make a strong pitch to keep the brewery.  Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was one of Surly’s biggest cheerleaders during the legislative session and city staff have already reviewed 20 potential sites with Surly officials.  But if nothing else, it’s good for Chaska to be in on the conversation and it demonstrates the city’s aggressiveness is pursuing new, unique opportunities for economic development.

[UPDATE]:  The Chaska Herald reports the city is pitching the Chaska Building Center site to Surly officials, so far to no response.

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