Gina Rautenberg of LHiNC and Karen Binkowski of SWBA say collaboration while Linden Hills node is closed during street construction is just the start.

With many organizational budgets being slashed, businesses and residents need to band together to thrive. Gina Rautenberg and Karen Binkowski are leading by example.
Rautenberg is the executive director of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council, and Binkowsi is the manager of business development and marketing for the Southwest Business Association. They got connected earlier this year for the first time and were immediate kindred spirits. Now, ideas are flowing back and forth, especially with the climate for local businesses today in southwest Minneapolis and Linden Hills.
“It’s still tough,” Binkowski said during her “Let’s Connect” event with Rautenberg on March 8, 2024. “It depends on the business and where it’s located. They’re still struggling a bit with having people come out and shop because I think they’re used to shopping a lot online still. Just as much of an issue for them is all of the road construction that’s going on and how that impedes, with lack of parking and with residents and visitors not understanding what is available to shop in. It’s something actually that Gina and I have been talking about and working on together.”
They are excited about their plans to reinvigorate local business and get people out more to boost the local economy.
“One of the things that Karen and I connected on is there’s going to be a pretty large closure of the primary intersection [at 43rd and Upton Ave. in Linden Hills] beginning in May and continuing for at least 10 weeks, if not longer into the summer. And so that’s going to be really, really challenging for local businesses who already have a parking challenge here,” Rautenberg said. “Karen and I had talked about that a few weeks ago, and we shared a plan that the council has been coming up with to do a sort of an online campaign to encourage non-car activity into and out of Linden Hills during this closure. There will be a QR code at each of the individual businesses that they can scan to enter into a giveaway for gift cards and other prizes if they have not taken a car to get into Linden Hills. 
“Karen and I have been speaking on that and trying to figure out how we could fund it to ensure that the businesses that are already burdened by this closure aren’t also responsible for the gift cards that we’ll be getting away. So we want to make sure that this is something that’s just a net benefit to them even despite of kind of the real challenge of the street closure that they’ll be facing.” 
The Southwest Business Association will be sponsoring the Walk, Bike, Roll to Linden Hills initiative financially and then also helping to execute it by working with the small businesses. 
“For the business association, this is a direction we’re really excited to take,” said Binkowski. “In the past, especially with the funding that we’re able to secure through the city, it generally has to be spent on individual businesses. And we are seeing a need to work on marketing our nodes. So these major shopping intersections, and this is the perfect opportunity to try something where we can use some of our funding to support this initiative and see how this helps with the loss of traffic and help them generate sales.” 
This is just one of the many ways neighborhoods and businesses can work together. Collaboration and creative thinking, Rautenberg and Binkowski both agree, are vital going forward.
“We’re we’re designed to support the businesses, the neighborhood associations are designed to sort of support the residents, but really you know it’s the same thing in our opinion,” explained Binkowski. “You need both to survive so the direction for sure going forward is a lot more partnership and sharing of resources.”
Rautenberg is excited about the possibilities and what the community can accomplish when everyone works together.
“It does feel like there’s a lot of potential for each of those links,” said Rautenberg. “If we aren’t all in a partnership together, if any of those links break, it could be really, really difficult for us to pull off really solid community building work in our neighborhood. But right now I do feel like there is a real spirit of collaboration and partnership because so many budgets are being slashed everywhere that everybody’s sort of like, what can we do to all stay connected with one another and to make sure that things don’t get lost. It’s a really solid way to turn this from a challenge into an opportunity.” 
Today, the Southwest Business Association has about 120 business members. Their goal is to add 50 more businesses. It’s $195 a year, or $17 a month. With that, you get support from Binkowski. You get support from their board. You get access to all of their education resources and no cost opportunities, like grants. The more members they have, the more work they can do. 
“I just hope that we can grow the profile of these associations as nonprofits and that we’re here to support the community, we’re here to support the residents and our businesses,” summed up Binkowski. “And I’m just really excited for what we’re gonna be able to do in the future.”
They can’t do it alone.
“I agree 100 percent,” said Rautenberg. “In terms of the neighborhood associations and Southwest Business Association, sort of every organization is undergoing a lot of budget cuts right now. So the funding is really tight. It’s becoming a massive challenge. And so what we’re really trying to talk about as folks offer us ideas is to say, thank you for the idea. Will you also help us execute? That’s a much bigger ask. We recognize that not everyone is in a position to do that, but I do think the work of creating and sustaining and building a community does require everyone to get involved. There are so many fantastic ideas out there.”
Watch the full interview by Eric Ortiz with Karen Binkowski and Gina Rautenberg at by clicking here


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