By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN “I like working with communities that have a vision, with big dreams and goals and I see that in Winsted,” said Clay Wilfahrt, whose first day as Winsted’s city administrator was Sept. 9.
One project Wilfahrt is especially excited about is the city’s proposed new industrial park.
“Winsted is small, but at the same time, it has a very strong manufacturing base,” he said. “We have great manufacturers in town, and I’m looking forward to helping them grow and bringing in the next manufacturing company.”
Economic development was one of the reasons Wilfahrt was drawn to Winsted.
“I looked for a position that really fit my skills and background,” he said.
Previously, Wilfahrt had been the assistant director of economic development in Elk River, where he was instrumental in identifying, securing, and developing land for industrial growth.
In January, Elk River’s executive director took a job in the private sector, which gave Wilfahrt the opportunity to step in and fulfill additional duties.
“I really enjoyed that I wanted that increased responsibility and increased activity,” he said, explaining that after a replacement was hired, he missed the challenge.
Wilfahrt’s interest in local government began when he was growing up in Watertown, SD, and his father was serving as executive director of the chamber of commerce.
“It fascinated me from the beginning,” he said.
During Wilfahrt’s junior year of high school, he participated in the Senate Page Program, which gives students an opportunity to assist members of Congress.
Wilfahrt was also engaged in the community through Boy Scouts. His Eagle Scout project involved obtaining unused computers from manufacturing companies, refurbishing them, and giving them to underprivileged students.
“When I have an idea or someone else has an idea, it’s gratifying for me to be able to take that concept and help it come to fruition,” Wilfahrt said.
City government has always been Wilfahrt’s passion, and in 2008, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from St. John’s University in Collegeville. He then went on to Minnesota State University, Mankato to study local government management with an emphasis in economic development.
Before finishing his master’s degree, Wilfahrt was offered a position as economic development director at Hartford, SD (a city near Sioux Falls, with a population of about 2,500 people).
Before Wilfahrt started at Hartford, the community’s dreams of a bike trail, industrial park, and sports complex were in initial planning stages. By the time he left, land had been purchased for a sports complex and industrial park, and a good portion of a newly-constructed bike trail had been paved.
“In a small community, you get to be a jack-of-all-trades; and in a larger community, you can be more specialized,” Wilfahrt said, adding that both of his previous jobs have prepared him for his work in Winsted.
Wilfahrt and his wife, Amber, currently reside in Big Lake with their two young daughters. Sylvia is almost 2-and-a-half, and Maria will turn 1 Thursday, Sept. 26.
In addition to spending time with family, Wilfahrt enjoys fishing and running in his free time.
“I’m excited to be here, and I’m excited to work on the new projects,” he said. “Winsted has a lot of potential.”