Rich Draheim – Weichert Realtors, Community Group

rich_draheim

Photo: Kris Kathmann

Home Sweet Home

Mankato-based Rich Draheim helps make homeownership dreams come true through his real estate business.

There’s a famous scene in the classic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where naïve Senator Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) starts his filibuster of a corrupt bill that is being pushed through the legislature in order to benefit the political machine pulling strings behind the scenes. While the other 99 senators call for Smith’s arrest based on phony charges, the earnest do-gooder from out West continues pleading with them to have the courage to stand up for convictions that grew hazy somewhere along the road to political success. Even when he’s surrounded by bins of letters calling for his resignation, he keeps going. Swaying from exhaustion, voice hoarse, he promises to fight for the “lost causes” because of one plain, simple rule: “Love thy neighbor.”

Rich Draheim is a lot like that.

The Mankato native is passionate about helping others, whether it’s through the businesses he has started over the years (a list that takes quite a while to run through), his volunteer efforts or his personal interests.

“You look at all the jobs and businesses we’ve started, and they’re all about helping people,” he explained.

That work history ranges from earning $3.50 an hour as a kid at the Mankato John Deere dealership to his recent purchase of the New Ulm Event Center. He also owns and operates a Weichert Realtors, Community Group in Mankato, where he delights in helping people achieve their dream of homeownership. That’s not even getting into the fundraisers and nonprofit organizations like the Anthony Ford Pond Hockey event he has helped organize over the years, or his 40-year history with his church.


Draheim recently added one more commitment to his already full calendar when he announced he was running for State Senate District 20, going up against Democratic incumbent Kevin Dahle. He explained that he saw this as his way to serve his country and help fellow Minnesotans.

He may not be taking on the entire Washington establishment, but Draheim shares Smith’s commitment to integrity, honesty and perseverance—loving every neighbor he meets along the way. Whether he ever makes it to St. Paul or not, he’s still dedicated to helping his fellow man, one person at a time.


Draheim was born and raised in Mankato. His father worked as a counselor at MSU-Mankato and his mother was a high school art teacher. His neighbor across the street was Ron Kibble of Kibble Equipment, who offered Draheim his first job at age 11, working at the John Deere dealership in Mankato. There, he mostly cleaned bathrooms and washed tractors and combines, earning $3.50 an hour.

“I thought I was in heaven,” he said.

He attended high school at Mankato East, where he played football, basketball and soccer—but most of his time was spent at the dealership. During the summers, he would head to Bismarck with classmate Steve Kibble to work at the dealership over there.

“When I wasn’t at a sport, I was at work,” he said. “I really enjoyed working for the John Deere dealers. I learned a lot, such as the value of a dollar and the importance of looking at your job like you were the boss and it was your money. A good employee is one that values every penny and sees the big picture. And part of that is sharing with your employees the big picture, and what you’re trying to accomplish. I don’t think everyone does that.”

This philosophy helped Draheim quickly advance into different roles at John Deere, from sales to IT to marketing. He continued to work full-time at John Deere while attending college at MSU-Mankato, where he explored several different fields of study before settling on industrial and organizational psychology.

After graduating in 1994, Draheim continued to work at John Deere, running the parts department and doing “whatever no one else wanted to do.”

“I liked that, the challenge of something new,” he said. “I think that’s why I’ve always started new businesses, because I like the challenge of trying something different. I love to work. My wife and I are both workaholics. I get up every morning excited to come in. If you’re not excited to come in, you shouldn’t be there.”

Draheim also credits the Kibble family with teaching him part of his work ethic.

“They were hardworking, salt-of-the-earth people,” he recalled. “Ron Kibble was very tough but fair, and very loyal to his employees. I learned a lot from Ron.”

Altogether, Draheim worked at John Deere for 19 years. He said he had hoped for a long time to own his own dealership, but after crunching the numbers, he realized how difficult that would be. Instead, he decided it was time to move on.

“I loved every second at John Deere,” he said. “They were very good to me. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But there’s something about being your own boss and making your own decisions, reaping the rewards for the effort you put in it.”

Draheim and his wife, Lynnette, decided to find their own business to run, telling their realtor to look for “anything but a bar or restaurant.” But when they heard about Westood Marina on Lake Washington, it felt like a perfect fit, and they ended up buying it in 2001.

“Westwood just felt right,” Draheim explained. “What could be better than sitting out at the lake every day?”

The Draheims ran Westwood Marina until 2014, hiring about 60 employees every season. Along the way, they also got involved in local real estate, since they came to know the lake area so well. They both went to night school to earn their real estate licenses, after which they worked for a real estate company for a few years. Then, in 2007, they bought into the Weichert real estate franchise, opening an office in Mankato. The office houses 12 independently contracted agents. Draheim mostly focuses on lakefront and rural property, as well as residential lots.

According to Draheim, some of the biggest demand for housing in the Mankato area is for one-level living, along with the desire for three-car garages. He said commercial real estate is also in demand, but he is unsure if the commercial wave will continue to swell.

“There are a lot of empty spots in strip malls,” he said. “I don’t know if we can continue filling them.”

Another issue is housing affordability, which Draheim said can be a problem in the area, especially because of how the college market inflates rent prices.

“There are plenty of places to live, but the problem is they’re not affordable,” he said. “You look at the cost of everything, and it’s gone up. It seems like the solution that most politicians have for low income housing is to have a fancy building put up that costs two or three times what a normal developer would spend, and then they cut the rent way down to half of what average folks have to pay. I’d rather see them do something in smaller towns.”

Draheim has started or acquired several other businesses within the past several years, including the New Ulm Event Center, which he bought in 2012 and has put through extensive renovations. The Minnesota Wedding Shop, another business he acquired in 2014, is located inside.

Draheim added even more to his already full plate when he decided to run for state senate in the 2016 election. He explained that it wasn’t even on his radar until someone asked him to run, admitting that he doesn’t like to speak in front of groups. But friends and family finally convinced him to announce a campaign for State Senate District 20, which includes cities such as Northfield, Belle Plaine, Le Sueur and Cleveland.

“It’s the frustration,” he said. “We’re trying to do too much for too many people. I think we need to get back to our core values as a state.”

For Draheim, those core values include public safety, roads and bridges, and education. Meanwhile, the biggest problems facing Minnesotans, according to him, are excessive taxation and too many regulations.

“This building we’re sitting in, it’s like $100,000 a year for property taxes,” he said. “That eliminates a job, since you have to cut back. You only have so big a pie, and if the government is taking 30-40 percent of it, that only leaves 60 percent for everything else. It’s that mentality that some people in government have, that budget doesn’t matter. There’s no accountability. It’s an open credit card. And we can’t sustain it.”

Instead, Draheim recommends taking much of the control out of the state government’s hands and giving it back to local communities.

“Every community’s different,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a John Deere dealership or the government; we have different needs and wants, and to have a blanket policy over everybody, to me, is not very efficient.”

One way to do this, according to Draheim, would be to streamline state agencies and cut back on redundancy. He added that this could make it easier for Minnesotans to start and expand new businesses.

“When was the last time that you heard of a state agency that went away or got merged into something else? Hardly ever,” he said. “We need to evaluate what we’re spending money on. You look at all the different agencies that you have to deal with as a small business person. My priority is to streamline the process for them, so that they have a one-stop shop that they can log into and have all the forms that they need to fill out.”

Another way to cut back on state control would be to stop funding so many projects, Draheim continued.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t tax enough,” he said. “It’s that we waste too much. We don’t focus back on what’s important for the average Minnesotan. We try to keep everybody happy. We have to reevaluate our values as a state so that we can keep our spending under control, which will keep the taxes under control. In almost every aspect of our lives, our taxes have gone up, yet our debt has gone up as a nation and as a state. We waste money on stupid pet projects. In this year’s spring bonding bill, there was a request for a snow making machine in St Paul. You ask the majority of Minnesotans if that’s a priority, and they’ll say no. There’s a museum remodel for $10 million for a town of 2,800. Is that a priority? No. It’s the same with sports. I love sports, but as a state, is it really our priority to fund these professional teams? Or even at the college level, like spending $31 million adding onto the Civic Center. I support the team 1,000 percent, but is that a priority? Are we that sad of a society that we have to have the government subsidize our entertainment?”

Draheim went on to say that these taxes and regulations can be a big problem when it comes to attracting new businesses to the state.

“You talk to most corporate people about why they come to Minnesota, and it’s because of the standard of living and the good work force: well educated with a good work ethic,” he explained. “What has happened to the work ethic in the last decade? It’s gone down. What’s happened to the cost of doing business here? It’s skyrocketed. We’re going to have a deficit of workers within the next 10-15 years. So why would you come to Minnesota to do business if education isn’t what it used to be, standard of living isn’t what it used to be, taxes are some of the highest in the country and you can’t find the workforce? We have one of the best states in the country. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. But we need to control our taxes.”

Since starting his campaign last year, Draheim worked to meet with constituents across the district and also talk with past delegates.

“You meet with a lot of people,” he said. “It’s such a diverse district. Every community is different, and that’s part of the challenge. Not everyone wants to hear what I have to say. I’m pretty blunt. But I told myself when I decided to run that I wasn’t going to change what I believed in. It’s not that I won’t listen or compromise, but I’m not going to change what I’m saying just because I think you’re not going to like it. I’m going to be straight forward and call a spade a spade.”

Draheim said the biggest challenge has been juggling all his other commitments as he works on his campaign.

“There were two things that I said when I was going to run,” he recalled. “One: that I wouldn’t change what I was saying or who I was. And two: I wasn’t going to stop going to the kids’ events. My biggest regret is that I don’t have enough hours. I thought I’d have more time than I did. But I’m not going to apologize for spending time with my kids.”

Draheim was chosen as the official Republican candidate at the party’s regional endorsement convention on April 11. Now comes the long road to the November elections. And if he’s elected on Nov. 8?

“I have this grand idea of going up there and making a difference,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Rich, you’re kidding yourself.’ But that doesn’t mean you give up. It doesn’t mean you don’t try.”


Goals and Priorities

Here’s a run-down of where Draheim stands on the issues.

On education: “I don’t think our education system is working as well as it could. I don’t blame the teachers. They’re handcuffed by all these mandates and regulations, and frankly all kids learn at a different pace. We have a cookie-cutter system for education. People think everybody can fit into this funnel, but I don’t think we can. I also think we need to focus on the vocational and trade schools. All the trades are short of people. We have to be up front with the kids at high school and tell them that any job is honorable. You don’t have to have a 4-year degree with a fancy title to have an honorable job.”

On abortion: “I really have a hard time with our state and federal dollars going to Planned Parenthood. The Open Door Health Center here in Mankato does more good than all the Planned Parenthood clinics in the whole state. I have a hard time with the fact that we spend that many resources out of our hard earned tax dollars to kill babies. I know it’s not a popular political topic. That’s a life. You can’t put one life ahead of the other. You look at all the families that want to adopt, and how long it takes for them to be able to adopt.  It’s nine months out of your life—to save someone. Would you give up 6-9 months of your life to save someone else’s life?”

On immigration: “A lot of talk is about immigration right now. You might as well be talking about me. My grandpa came over from Germany, so I’m only second generation American. And I have no problem with people coming here, as long as they’re going to work and learn the language. You can value your heritage, but you have to function in our society, and part of that is learning our language and our rules. If you have things that your religion says you can’t do, don’t do them. But don’t expect us to change.”

On marijuana and drug testing: “Surprisingly, I’ve been asked quite a bit about drug tests and marijuana. I don’t care what people do in their own homes; it’s none of my business or the government’s business. But what bothers me is when I go through these houses and see drug paraphernalia and know folks are getting rent paid for by our tax dollars. We work hard for our dollar, and we’re very generous. I don’t mind helping people that need help. I think we have to. As Christians, we should help everybody. But I have a hard time with helping people that don’t want to help themselves. I think a little tough love goes a long way.”

On new taxes: “Any new tax should be voted on by the people of Minnesota. Any specific tax should stay there and not be moved into the general fund. They say, ’Let’s roll it over here to pay for this.’ I’m okay with a dedicated tax for a specific purpose, like education or roads, but only if politicians can’t touch it for something else, like buying a snow machine or remodeling a museum or any other crazy pet project. And if it needs to be reduced, it should be reduced. Politicians are supposed to be working for the people, not the reverse.”

Homeownership

For Draheim, the best part of his job at Weichert is helping families find new homes—especially since homeownership can be a major factor in everything from net worth to the length of someone’s marriage.

“Real estate is the second-biggest decision you make, after who you marry,” he said. “I feel honorable helping someone make a good decision. I like helping people. I like seeing people happy.”

Draheim added that it’s particularly important to encourage homeownership today because of the record low rate of homeownership, especially as more elderly people transition out of their homes and more Millennials choose to rent instead of buy.

“If you have fewer people working and a whole bunch of people retiring, especially in the rural areas, you don‘t have the population density to fill in for that,” he said.

Skating For A Cause

One local cause that’s near and dear to Draheim’s heart is the Anthony Ford Pond Hockey event that he helped organize in 2007 when he was still working at Westwood Marina. The event began in honor of Anthony Ford, a nine-year-old area boy who battled cancer for eighteen months before passing away. Ford loved playing hockey and dreamed of playing in the NHL as the “Next Great One.” After his death, the Anthony Ford Committee was founded to help find a cure for childhood leukemia and help other young hockey players be the “Next Great One.”

The committee raises money through two main events: an annual outdoor pond hockey classic and an annual silent auction. The hockey classic started on Lake Washington but moved to Spring Lake Park in North Mankato this year. Since the event was established, it has raised more than $100,000 for pediatric cancer research and youth scholarships for disadvantaged kids through United Way’s Connecting Kids. It also enabled volunteers to construct 12 hockey rinks on Lake Washington. The hope is to fund more hockey programs and equipment in the future, along with someday building an ice arena for youth hockey.

“I love helping people,” said Draheim, who admits that he is not a hockey player himself. “[Through our businesses], we were able to donate to a lot of different causes and do right by the community. We try to give back.”

Draheim is also involved in the annual Big Bobber ice fishing contest, which raises money for scholarships to MSU-Mankato.

Getting to know you: Rich Draheim

Family: wife Lynnette, kids Lilly (11) and David (7)

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato

Management style: “I’m a very open book. I’m the guy that lets everyone know what I’m thinking and why, and what the goal is.”

Affiliations: National Association of Realtors, past president and current treasurer of the Realtor Association of Southern Minnesota, member of Realtor Association of Minnesota, member of the Minnesota River Builders Association

What’s on the bucket list: “I’ve already accomplished most of it. I really don’t have much left except to tour the rest of the states and to serve my country in some way, like in politics.”

What would you be doing if not this?: “I would love to run a foundation, if I had Bill Gates money. I’d just focus on my foundation and giving away the money.”

Proudest moment: “My kids. All the businesses and all the stuff doesn’t mean anything. They’re fun, and they’re a good way to earn a living. I’m proud of what we did at Westwood and with the real estate company. But the kids are what’s important to me, and I hope that we can teach them how to be good people and have good values.”

Path To St. Paul

Once Draheim decided to run for State Senate District 20, he looked for a campaign manager, finding him in Jack Zimmerman. Zimmerman has been greatly involved with the Republican Party and his local Le Sueur County, as well as campaigning for Ted Cruz and other high profile candidates.

Draheim also had to report himself to Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, which requires candidates to register if they raise or spend more than $750 on their campaign. In addition, he reached out to the Republican Party of Minnesota, since he was seeking the party’s official endorsement. Part of that included visiting with the Basic Political Units of the counties within the district: Le Sueur, Scott and Rice. Next came the caucus night and then the district endorsement convention on April 11.

Draheim’s race for senate was a little unusual in that the Republican Party had four candidates for this year’s primary. Usually, only one person decides to run against the incumbent.

And as for that incumbent, Kevin Dahle? Draheim said he respects Dahle but thinks he’s removed from the everyday lives most Minnesotans experience.

“I think he lives in a different world than most people in my district do,” Draheim said. “When you’re in that government bubble, such as his job at a public school, it’s hard to relate to people who aren’t in that bubble. I’ve created businesses, I’ve started from scratch, I’ve built something… I think it gives you an opinion on what to value. You have to quantify everything when you’re a business person. You have to justify the needs over the wants, cost versus benefit. He’s a very nice man. I just don’t agree with his political positions.”

THE ESSENTIALS

Weichert Realtors, Community Group
Phone: (507) 345-1111
Address: 300 St. Andrews Drive, Mankato, Minnesota
Website: weichertcommunitygroup.com

Grace Webb

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine