In Nate Burkett’s mind, West St. Paul is the perfect fit.
Burkett, who has been hired to be West St. Paul’s next city manager, foresees the city giving him just as much as he will give to the community.
“I think that I’m going to have a very good working relationship with the council and the community and the staff, because I think that the things that are important to us are similar,” he said last week.
Last week, the city council chose Burkett to lead the city of nearly 20,000 residents. Burkett has been Shakopee’s assistant city administrator since 2016. He’s worked as the county administrator in both Aitkin and Todd counties in outstate Minnesota, as well as for two private consulting firms.
Burkett, who starts the new job May 3, will replace Ryan Schroeder, the city’s manager since May 2017. Schroeder is retiring after nearly four decades experience running cities, including 18 years in Cottage Grove.
In an interview, Burkett, 39, describes his experience and his vision for West St. Paul.
Where do you live now?
I live in Chanhassen. It’s quiet, most of the time. I live right next to the border with Chaska, and when there’s a golf event at Hazeltine it can get a little bit crazy.
Why did decide to apply to be West St. Paul’s manager?
In their candidate profile, the things that were important to them — like equity, redevelopment, fiscal discipline and making sure that we have a really strong plan in place for aging infrastructure — were all interesting to me and I feel like I have a good skill set in. Ultimately, I got very comfortable as I got to meet the staff and the council and see how they actually operated. And I really do believe that the things they value and the things that I value are similar.
What do you look forward to working on?
Early on I think the two priorities are going to be fiscal discipline, making sure that we stick to the plans that Ryan has developed relative to making sure we’re paying down debt, making sure that we are making smart budgeting decisions. In addition, I think there’s also a very high priority that we’re going to have to hit the ground running on making sure that we’re hearing the voices of everybody in the community. The council has been very clear that it’s very important to them, to make sure that we’re reaching everybody and that everybody gets a voice, which is the foundation of equity and inclusion. And that excites me.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the city?
I think it is primarily those two things I just mentioned, and those are things I’m looking forward to because I think they are going to make the most difference.
What makes WSP a unique city in your mind?
I can’t remember if I’m getting the tagline exactly correct, but it’s something like, close to it all. It’s a unique city in that within West St. Paul you have the opportunity for just about anything that you may want — big box stores, unique small businesses, good dining. I’ve seen a couple of pizza places that I’m definitely going to have to hit up. It has great parks, the Dodge Nature Center and really great neighborhoods. So it has it all inside the community.
What are your thoughts on the ongoing redevelopment of Robert Street?
There’s quite a lot of new development going on there right now. I think that we have to be really intentional about it, in my opinion. And here is where I have to be careful because I’ve done a lot of research but I haven’t been in the position, so I don’t know all of the things that you learn over time. But I think we have to kind of develop a community vision for the next options, the things we really want to see on there. I can say that I’m reasonably certain that the council is interested in really supporting small business in that corridor, in addition to the box stores that are there. And there is interest in doing some mixed-use with retail and housing on Robert Street. I think those are all good ideas and that there’s just a lot of potential for that to happen.”
Where did you grow up?
I was born in St. Peter, Minn., and grew up in Rice Lake, Wis. I don’t really remember St. Peter because we left when I was 8. Rice Lake was a nice small town to live in. But I’m a Vikings fan and there are a lot of Packers fans there, of course, and that was kind of a difficult thing for me (laughs).
Where did you go to college?
I got my undergraduate degree at St. Cloud State and a master’s degree in public administration from Hamline.
What is your family situation?
I’m divorced and I have one son, who is 11.
What do you do for fun?
In the summer, I spend as much time on the water as I can — not fishing, but boating and things like that. But otherwise it’s music, computers, books. I do a lot of downhill skiing in the winter, if it’s not too cold.
Do you plan on moving to West St. Paul or a surrounding city?
For now I will be staying put because my son goes to school here and his mom lives here. So it’d be highly difficult to make a move.