City hires assistant economic development director

Wilfahrt brings marketing, social media skills as well as an ability to bring people together

by Jim Boyle
The Elk River City Council, with the support of the Elk River Economic Development Authority (EDA), has hired an assistant director of economic development.

The council approved the hiring of Clay Wilfahrt, the current executive director of economic development for the Hartford Area Development Corp. (HADC) in South Dakota.

Wilfahrt was one of 27 applicants. A three-member staff interview committee met with seven applicants and recommended Wilfahrt.

Wilfahrt (pronounced Wilfert) became the director for the HADC in May of 2009. The nonprofit has been around for many years, but his position there was a new one when he started.

Led by a board of directors, Wilfahrt, 26, helped pull together several committees, the city,  the school district and many nonprofits in a community of 2,500 to promote local business retention and expansion.

During a 27-month stint, Wilfahrt combined his skills in marketing and developing social media with strong interpersonal skills.

“Cooperation and communication are the two most important things in bringing people together and making the community better,” he told the Star News.  “And to be successful requires people to be involved.”

The Watertown, S.D. native says one of the best things the HADC did while he was there was to complete a retail gap assessment. What was discovered was the area was lacking a veterinarian, a funeral home, an auto parts store and an optometrist. Three of the four needs have since been filled. In addition to a veterinarian coming to town and an auto parts store, two funeral homes have opened up.

A land deal for 75,000 acres for future economic and industrial development was secured during his tenure. Wilfahrt also has experience with grant writing and has sat on a County Economic Development Authority, which administers a revolving loan program.

Being one of 27 applicants and seven interviewed for his new post left him unsure of his chances. When he got the call that he was chosen, he said he was both surprised and humbled.

Wilfahrt is just a few credits short of his master’s degree from Minnesota State University Mankato and he has an undergraduate degree from St. John’s University.

Wilfahrt’s hiring went much smoother than the hiring of Annie Deckert, the director of economic development who was promoted to replace Cathy Mehelich.

Some members of the EDA criticized the Elk River City Council’s hiring after the fact, because the EDA was not included in the process.

They had no qualms with the hire, but did want to be included in the process and there was a question of whether they could make the final decision in this hire.

One attorney suggested they could authorize the hiring based on bylaws and state statute, but in the end it was concluded that the Elk River City Council has the final decision because the EDA is staffed by city employees. The City Council is the only authority that can hire city employees.

It was noted at the EDA meeting that to include the EDA in the process is wise.

Wilfahrt starts his job with Elk River on Aug. 24.