Q&A: Karl Schuettler, Northspan Vice President

Bringing established relationships with local and regional partners together with a deep knowledge of both the opportunities and challenges for the area, Northspan Vice President Karl Schuettler provides organizational, business, and community development support services to Northspan clients while also serving as a senior member of the Northspan leadership team. 

For six years prior to becoming vice president, Karl was Northspan’s research director and senior consultant, helping guide Northspan strategic planning processes and conducting research and analysis on economic and demographic trends. His work includes using data to tell stories for communities and organizations, community development project management, and support for Northspan’s programs. 

How did you first join Northspan? What drew you to the role?

I have an undergraduate degree in international politics from Georgetown University, and I wouldn’t trade my four years in DC for anything. But as I neared graduation, I realized that, for all my fascination with the wider world, I could be most useful putting my skills to work at a local level while avoiding the rat race of a few select careers in a few select cities that drew in so many of my peers. More specifically, I wanted to do that work in the Northland. This set me on a long path that included some dabbling in local politics, an internship with APEX where I got to know some Northspan staff, and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. When a role at Northspan opened up shortly after I finished grad school, it was the perfect landing place for someone looking to come back home and put his skills to work.

Do any highlights stand out in your mind from special projects or initiatives? 

There are almost too many to list. In my early years at Northspan, a research project on Duluth housing construction costs helped shed some real insight on a complicated situation, and a financial feasibility study I worked on with Bob Palmquist set the stage for the Bell Program, an innovative expansion of an undergraduate engineering program on the Iron Range. Our launch of the Minnesota Opportunity Collaborative, in which we quickly developed expertise on a new federal tax incentive and got national recognition for our education efforts around it, was also a real highlight. More recently, I’m especially proud of helping to secure the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe a $3.1 million federal EDA grant to fund several business incubators and helping to find a new organization to manage the Neighborhood Youth Services program for youth in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood. That genuine impact for communities in need is hard to beat.

Can you share a little about what you enjoy the most about working with Northspan? 

As someone who’s now among the longest-tenured staff members (did I really become a crusty old-timer this quickly?!), our trajectory over my seven years here has been a sight to behold. We’ve built a dynamic team that knows how to get things done, and it’s been gratifying to see us grow our staff and expand our reach. The work is never boring, and I’ve built relationships all across the region and beyond. I’ve been fortunate to learn from two visionary Northspan presidents: Randy Lasky, who personified the diligent commitment to behind-the-scenes collaboration that I try to carry forward, and Elissa Hansen, who has brought a huge jolt of energy and entrepreneurial spirit in her five years at the helm. At a consulting firm, the sky is the limit, and I’m excited to see where we all go next.

As of January 2023 you are Northspan’s new vice president, how’s it going so far?

It’s been a very smooth transition. A lot of careful planning went into the process, including a three-year succession planning process for Bob’s retirement and a trial run during Elissa’s maternity leave this past fall. It’s exciting to shift into a role where I spend more of my time helping our team have the resources they need to be the boots on the ground and successful in their roles. I’ve been able to help implement some new tools that will assist with time management, schedule out our workloads, and establish communication norms. My goal for the first quarter of 2023 is to help us lay out hiring processes for the three new staff we’ll be bringing on board, which will grow our capacity and allow us to do more of what we love to do. Having a supportive, inspiring team makes all the difference!

Connect with Karl by phone at (218) 481-7737 or by email at kschuettler@northspan.org.