Northspan Shares Five-Year Strategic Plan

Duluth, MN — June 2, 2021: Northspan is celebrating 35 years of work and rolling out a five-year strategic plan detailing the goals to engage and elevate all clients and programs. 

The new five-year plan builds on the last 35 years of work. Northspan was established in 1985 as a private, nonprofit organization to offer professional business and community development services. At the time, northeast Minnesota was reeling from a recession and record high unemployment. In the last two years, the coronavirus outbreak has emphasized the need for Northspan to stay flexible and maintain the ability to adapt quickly and respond to crises with gap capacity services and support. 

“You can think of Northspan as the EMTs of economic and community development,” said Northspan President & CEO Elissa Hansen. “Whether we’re responding to an unforeseen crisis like the pandemic, or helping a community push forward to make progress on long-term commitments, Northspan’s work is rooted in facing our region’s most pressing challenges directly.”   

The Northspan Board conducted a series of meetings and workshops in late 2019 through 2020 which informed the strategic planning process. Client surveys and key informant interviews also helped shape the following five strategic directions which will guide the next five years of Northspan work:

1. Build awareness through a comprehensive marketing plan: This strategic direction acknowledges that, while Northspan markets its services in many ways, it has no formal plan to guide its efforts. Historically, the organization has relied on its network for marketing, and has slowly built a larger social media and newsletter presence. A more comprehensive, strategic marketing effort will allow Northspan to better promote its strengths, build its reputation for its successes, and expand its client base.

2. Diversify partnerships for revenue stability: This strategic direction recognizes the importance of broadening Northspan’s sources of revenue to avoid over reliance on certain funding sources. It builds on recent efforts to better understand the organization’s budget and expand on existing or potential partnerships with many clients or similar entities. If successful, the revenue stability generated by this strategic direction will provide Northspan with reliable funding streams, more efficient use of staff time, and greater peace of mind for the staff and board.

3. Foster a regional culture of inclusivity: This strategic direction recognizes the increasing diversity of northeast Minnesota and a glaring lack of healthy regional dialogue around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Northspan has already begun exploratory efforts to develop Welcoming Community programming to build intercultural skills and strengthen the region’s capacity to have difficult conversations. This new programming work is part of a long-term effort to determine how we might position northeast Minnesota for success by providing programming and resources to elevate digital access equity & inclusion, creating welcoming communities, increasing cultural fluency, and retaining and attracting talent.

4. Align and develop skills to maximize growth: This strategic direction focuses on internal efforts to build up Northspan staff capacity. It continues to emphasize professional development for staff, conducts a proactive assessment of organization needs and staff growth plans, and prepares for an anticipated retirement in the coming years. When fully implemented, this strategic direction will allow Northspan to make smooth transitions, allow its staff to grow into roles that fit their skills and aspirations, and move in tandem with the organization’s broader strategies.

5. Establish Northspan’s industry leader niche: This strategic direction aims to build Northspan’s reputation as a visionary consulting firm in its field. It builds in efforts to collect client feedback and learn from best practices of comparable organizations to refine and brand Northspan’s expertise and processes. These efforts seek to create a positive feedback loop in which Northspan gains regional recognition for its wide-ranging talents and innovative efforts.

“Northspan has played a vital economic development role over the past 35 years, many times in a behind-the-scenes role. They are the glue that elevates organizations, businesses, and communities across our region,” said Minnesota Power Regional Development Representative and Duluth City Councilor Arik Forsman, who recently succeeded Jennifer Wainionpaa as chair of the Northspan board. “Northspan’s reputation as a trusted partner enhances the credibility of projects they collaborate on with their clients, such as Minnesota Power’s Community Advisory Panels, which Northspan helped build from the ground up and continues to facilitate nearly a decade later.”

As a nonprofit partner for communities, businesses, and organizations, Northspan currently provides and will continue to provide development services and programs, including: 

“Looking back over the last 35 years, what’s cool is to see how we’re approaching the same framework in new ways,” said Hansen. “We’re doing the same types of projects that we were doing 10 or even 20 years ago. At the same time, the board is challenging us to think bigger, especially about community development. We’re excited to keep moving forward.”

You can read more the five-year plan, including background on the plan creation process, here

For more information please contact Elissa Hansen, President & CEO of Northspan, at