3/22/2017 8:29:00 AM Cass County's Enblom reflects on rewarding career with county
MONICA LUNDQUIST Cass County Correspondent
WALKER-"I can't imagine having a more rewarding job," David Enblom said, looking back at the last 20 years he has spent as county engineer for Cass County.
He was assistant county engineer for Cass 10 years before that.
"The county engineer position fit my personality well. .. The county board gave me the opportunity to apply my education in my home area. It gives a person a different perspective when you come to work in your home area," Enblom added.
For Enblom, it has been an opportunity to do something for family, friends and neighbors. He could relate to the shared values people who live here have, he said.
Cass County boards always have been supportive of highway initiatives, he said. They have been strategically planning oriented. This has helped him carry out plans he presented to the board, he said.
"I have not heard of anything people think we're not doing," he said. "I appreciate the county board supporting me and the highway department."
This was not a job he could just walk into after high school, however. It took several years of education and experience before he moved into his dream job.
Enblom's father grew up in Laporte. His mother grew up in Walker.
The future engineer grew up in several locations before his dad retired from an Air Force career when he was age 14 and the family moved back to the area. Enblom graduated from Laporte High School.
When he was in high school, he and his dad stopped to visit one day with the local road grader operator, who inquired what David planned to study in college.
When he said he planned to study engineering, the grader operator suggested, "Maybe someday you will become county engineer."
"Maybe that was a forecast," Enblom suggested.
Maybe engineering is in his genes. His uncle was an engineering technician for Cass County Highway Department.
He earned his bachelor degree from Bemidji State University, where he also met his wife, Candy. She retired in 2013 from a career as Cass County income maintenance supervisor for Cass Health, Human and Veterans Services Department.
After Bemidji State, Enblom completed his engineering education at the University of North Dakota, then took a job in Helena, Mont., with the Montana State Department of Transportation for six years.
Cass County then hired him as assistant engineer.
David and Candy had one son, Nick. When they took vacations, Dave said he always would drive slowly through construction site to see what other road builders were doing.
"I just like the smell of fresh asphalt," he said.
Maybe that is why Nick also studied to become an engineer, he speculated. Nick's first job out of college also was in Montana.
Nick and his wife, Kristen, now live a little closer to home in Grand Forks. They have a 2-year-old son, Brooks, and visit Walker often, Enblom said.
"Being able to work in a county is very rewarding, because you have so much control over what gets done on the roads, Enblom said. "If you like to see things get accomplished, you have so much control over that."
By contrast, he noted even supervisory positions in a state highway system only control one small portion of the whole operation.
Enblom sees one of the biggest challenges for future supervisors will be finding enough qualified employees. He encouraged local youth to train for local jobs that will open as many baby boomers retire.
If they get the training and experience now, they will have more chance to qualify for the supervisory position in the future, Enblom advised young people. He has begun a program at the highway department to train future engineering technicians.
He has found employees tend to gravitate back to their home area even if they move away for a while.
Two of the biggest and most controversial paving projects Enblom has overseen are Ten Mile Lake Road (County State Aid Highway 71) and CSAH 77 in Lake Shore.
The key to getting both projects done was listening to citizen viewpoints, Enblom believes, then trying to reach a balance between the opposing views.
"Being able to earn the respect of people in the county is huge," he said, adding, "It makes doing other things a lot easier."
CSAH 71 serves mainly residents along and feeding into the road, while CSAH 77 has over 50 percent pass-through traffic using the road to go other places, he said.
Therefore, a natural preservation route design could work for CSAH 71, especially after the U.S. Forest Service contributed money toward the extra costs for that road design, he said.
Natural preservation route design does not work for CSAH 77, because of all the pass-through traffic it carries, he said. Enblom was able, however, to obtain a MnDOT variance from state aid highway standards for a few areas of the CSAH 77 design where it was possible to not compromise safety.
When Enblom steps away from Cass County roads March 31, he and Candy plan to shop for a fifth-wheel camper, then take a few sight-seeing trips around the U.S. and Canada.
Construction zones probably will be among their siteseeing stops.
If shorter trips work well, they then plan to take two months to drive to Alaska to see more of that state.
Flying to Alaska three summers ago only made them feel they needed more time to see that state. Some friends may join them on the Alaska trip, he said.
Is he done with highway issues? Not entirely.
It has bothered him to see counties levy more property taxes to fund road building and maintenance, then add a local option sales tax.
The revenue for roads should be a user tax, Enblom strongly believes-either more gas tax or a mileage tax. A 5-cent gas tax increase would generate the same total amount as the local option sales tax, he thinks.
"Let's not hide it," he said of the revenue being collected for roads. "I may spend some time playing with the numbers and educating people."
Second publication rights after Brainerd Dispatch.