New Clayton County Engineer brings problem solving mindset to job

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Casey Stickfort, pictured with wife Kelly and their three dogs, is the new Clayton County Engineer. Stickfort is a Clayton County native and has many goals to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the department. (Submitted photo)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

As a kid, Casey Stickfort had a fascination with most things mechanical, like tractors, wagons, lawn mowers and motorcycles. He enjoyed driving through construction sites, looking at the equipment, how it worked and functioned and how it could be used to solve problems. 

 

Over the past 19 years, the Clayton County native, who grew up on a family farm outside Garnavillo, has developed a mind trained to solve problems—something he joked has gotten him into “trouble more times than not” with his wife Kelly. 

 

This inclination toward problem solving led Stickfort to Iowa State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, which has served as the foundation for his career choices since graduating in 2003. 

 

The first of these choices was to move home to the family farm, a source of pride since it’s been in the family for over 150 years. Home is where family is, as well as a culture and people Stickfort has an affinity for. But this set of non-career choices is not complete without the introduction of Kelly, who Stickfort met in 2007. Along the way, Kelly has been a “major blessing and source of inspiration” throughout his career choices, Stickfort said.

 

“You don’t know how lucky you have it when your spouse is by your side, supporting you through the good times and bad,” Stickfort said, while also giving credit to his parents for his strong work ethic and thanks to God for putting him on this journey.   

 

The journey began after gradation with a 13-year career at TeKippe Engineering, P.C., a consulting firm in West Union where he worked on numerous civil engineering projects, like roads, water mains and storm and sanitary sewer mains. In fact, while at TeKippe, Stickfort designed nine Clayton County projects. 

 

“In 13 years there, every project was different, and each had their own challenges that helped me improve as an engineer. I am very grateful for the staff and engineers who mentored me during those years,” Stickfort said.

 

In 2015, the journey entered a new phase after a dinner at Fennellys’ Irish Pub with current Mobile Track Solutions (MTS) President Justin Augustyn, who wanted to know if Stickfort would be interested in working at MTS. Stickfort started working there in 2015 as an engineering manager. 

 

While at MTS, Stickfort mentioned he was able to “gain experience in several categories ranging from structural design and analysis, material sourcing, negotiation, management and customer relations.” 

 

He also experienced places like a gold mine in British Columbia and visiting other job sites throughout the country. According to Stickfort, his time spent at MTS helped prepare him the most for his current position. 

 

That position is Clayton County Engineer, an opening that initially came as a surprise to Stickfort, who called outgoing county engineer Rafe Koopman to verify the position was indeed open. Stickfort was immediately interested, especially since, while in the position, he would be involved in several types of projects that have always been of interest, like culverts, bridges and roads. 

 

The position is a challenge in both technical and managerial aspects, and the problem-solving minded Stickfort, with his education and experience, believed it was a position he was well suited for. 

 

“I personally want to thank the [board of supervisors] for the opportunity they have given me to serve the residents of Clayton County. They have been welcoming, supportive and wonderful to work with since day one, making the transition stress-free,” Stickfort said. “Rafe has also been supportive and helpful. He built a great team and has proven to be an excellent resource.” 

 

The list of what the county engineer does is vast and quite lengthy, with no shortage of challenges. It’s a list that includes, but is not limited to, supervising the design of county construction projects for grading, bridges, culverts and drainage, including right-of-way; instructing staff on procedures for repair of roads, bridges, drainage and culverts; administering construction and maintenance project contracts; overseeing staffing needs for the secondary roads department; directing the maintenance of statistical, financial and control records relating to costs, work schedules, supplies and equipment; and preparing budgetary requests and reports for all the secondary roads department.  

 

Additionally, Stickfort is responsible for preparing and implementing a five-year road construction program as approved by the board of supervisors, as well as developing and implementing departmental goals and objectives, policies and procedures, methods and standards and improvements to enhance effectiveness and efficiency. In total, Stickfort oversees all 233 structures in Clayton County.

 

Along with the specified details of the job, Stickfort has a list of goals he’d like to accomplish as county engineer. Chief among them is improving communication both internally and externally, specifically by explaining more about why the county does what it does. As an example, Stickfort discussed when the county could grade gravel roads and the impact weather conditions have on that decision. 

 

“When it’s too dry, the road material does not pack. The road surface is harder, so fuel burn on the motor graders (blades) increases. In some cases, ‘washboards’ are back within a day or two. When we do have rain, blading is much more effective and the complete opposite will happen,” Stickfort explained. 

 

Another goal is to do more in-house work on engineering, maintenance and improvement projects. Stickfort recognized the talent and expertise on the county team, which is capable of designing, surveying, building roads and bridges and rebuilding engines. According to Stickfort, this will save money that could be put toward other projects and equipment. 

 

Stickfort would also like to focus on creating standards for job functions, which helps create expectations. For example, Stickfort talked about a standard for how the county blades gravel roads. 

 

“When I travel throughout the county, there is a noticeable difference in our roads between different areas. Keeping them uniform will be beneficial to the public’s safety and help our team understand what the target is,” Stickfort said. 

 

A final goal—or challenge—Stickfort will have to overcome is the changing workforce and the noticeable decline in applicants for job postings county wide. As Stickfort explained, over the last decade, the number of applicants has steadily dropped from around 30 for a job about 10 years ago to less than five more recently. 

 

This inability to find “great help” is exacerbated by the fact that people are leaving the county for other opportunities, something Stickfort would like to see change. As the problem solver he is, Stickfort has a plan to do just that. 

 

“What we can do is put more effort into recruitment and mentorships. We need to be more active in our local schools and our personal networks, spending more time in places where the next generation finds information, like Facebook,” Stickfort said. That includes explaining the benefits, retirement plan and work hours that “allow you to watch your child’s football or volleyball game, all while making a great wage.”

 

As Stickfort begins this new job and starts on fulfilling the litany of goals he’s put forth, he indicated he would need the help of the people in addressing questions and concerns. If you’re traveling the roads of Clayton County and something looks amiss, give Stickfort’s office a call or find them on social media. 

 

“On our way to St. Olaf, I asked my wife how many hours would it take me to drive every road in the county. My wife quickly responded, ‘40 hours traveling 30 mph and not stopping.’ The point being, one individual has a hard time putting eyes on every road in our beautiful county. Having your help to point out these areas can help us address the concerns in a much more timely manner,” Stickfort said. 

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