Stadheim’s the name, engineering’s his game

Day after day, City Engineer Joseph Stadheim works in this office planning projects and crunching the numbers. Featured is a segment of the Highway 14 finish line, his laptop with a busy schedule, and a double monitor with pictures of him and his family.

NEW ULM — Having worked for the city of New Ulm for seventeen years in three different capacities, Stadheim has seen and done it all.

Stadheim first considered being an engineer after advice from a high school calculus teacher. It was what he chose when he first enrolled at South Dakota State University, but he was still unsure about it being his future career. His path forward was solidified on his first internship during freshman year.

“I was able to get a summer employment with the City of Austin as an engineering intern,” Stadheim said. “That first summer I was able to get on-the-job experience and I fell in love with the profession. With civil engineering, there are many different avenues you can take, but I fell in love with the municipal side.”

Stadheim was hired out of college by New Ulm Jan. 2007 to be a graduate engineer. He was then promoted to Assistant City Engineer in Sep. 2011, and became City Engineer in Nov. 2020, after his mentor Steven Koehler retired. From being on the ground working on projects, to the boss organizing projects, Stadheim said what he does has changed a lot.

“As the assistant engineer, you do a lot more engineering. The biggest change is going from doing the actual engineering to more department head organization and budget management. Not doing actual design work, but more administering the department as a whole and making sure the departments operate efficiently. I don’t get to be in the field on construction projects all day every day like I used to. That was the biggest adjustment; being in the office all the time instead of being outside on the projects all summer.”

Inside this filing cabinet taller than he is, City Engineer Joseph Stadheim keeps his reserve of paperwork. Stadheim has worked for New Ulm since he graduated college January 2007

What Stadheim does on a typical day depends on the season. Currently, most of his time is devoted to working on projects for the Capital Improvement plan. Stadheim said it is an overarching and widespread task.

“It’s not just me but coordination with other city departments and figuring out what roadways are beyond maintenance,” he said. “Getting input from all the other departments and seeing what’s on their maintenance headache list. We have to fit everything within a certain budget number for when we go out for bonds to make sure we have the money to construct the projects.”

Keeping everything together and running in tip-top shape is no easy task. Over the seventeen years he’s worked for New Ulm, Stadheim has accumulated the tips and tricks necessary to roll with the punches. Above all, he said there is one skill imperative to his success.

“Organization first and foremost,” Stadheim said. I rely on my Outlook calendar a lot. When we start planning projects, we set bid dates and work everything back from there and make sure everything’s entered. We have four or five different projects going at a time. [I need to] track all those separately and where we’re at with construction progress and communicating with residents. How progress has been made and sharing information from the contractor.”

On a personal level, Stadheim said he enjoys the feeling of opening a project after all of the hard work is completed. He gets calls from residents expressing their thanks for improvements to the city. In his career, Stadheim said there’s one skill he’s developed that still surprises him.

A planning table and plat map of New Ulm function as aides in Stadheim’s city office. He said the table is now mainly used for looking at large versions of engineering plans.

“I learn a lot more by absorbing stuff from others than I did previously,” he said. “Being involved in the background of some projects early in my career helped. I didn’t realize how much I was learning in those early stages compared to now. Along those same lines, I’m always learning something new. Technology is always evolving, and there are always things to learn. Willing to continue to learn and try new things is something I surprise myself with every once in a while.”

Aside from being a city engineer, Stadheim gets his fair share of adrenaline working as a volunteer firefighter. As one can imagine, working an office job and fighting fires don’t paint similar pictures. Stadheim said one skill translates very well between the two.

“Communication, that’s the biggest one,” he said. “Obviously on a fire scene, things can be hectic, so you have to communicate with the crews and chief. Construction projects are kind of the same. While not as hectic as a fire scene, we still gotta communicate.”

Outside of work, Stadheim coaches youth baseball and builds Lego sets with his kids. An Ecto-1 Ghostbusters car and an NES video game console are among the finished projects he’s decorated his office.


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