WORTHINGTON - Scott Hain was formally honored for more than 20 years with Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) recently when he was given the annual city of Worthington Excellence of Leadership award.
For Hain, WPU general manager for more than a decade, the recognition felt great. But he was also quick to acknowledge his colleagues for their efforts.
“We have a lot of employees that deserve awards,” Hain said. “As far as me, I’m just so fortunate to have such good staff and employees who go to work every day and work hard and really care about the community.”
A 1984 graduate of St. Cloud State University with a degree in biology, Hain thought he would have a career with the Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Land Management or perhaps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But during summers away from college, he helped Worthington’s electric department bury the city’s electrical lines underground, giving him early exposure to the industry.
From 1985 to 1994, he worked in the city’s wastewater department. He started to split time between wastewater and WPU until 1996, when he was hired full-time as WPU coordinator. In 2006, he got the general manager job and hasn’t looked for anything else.
“It certainly wasn’t what I envisioned as a career path necessarily, but I couldn’t have picked a better one,” Hain said.
Most of his colleagues seem to feel the same way. Of the 26 WPU employees, 10 have worked there for 20 or more years. Seven of those 10 have been with WPU for 30 or more years.
The low turnover, according to Gary Hoffman, president of the Water & Light Commission, WPU’s governing body, has a lot to do with how well Hain relates to his staff and how well he is respected by his peers.
“We are fortunate to have Scott in our community,” Hoffman said.
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle attributed WPU’s above-average reliability and relatively low rates to Hain.
A report from the American Public Power Association found that WPU has above-average reliability - and a study from Owatonna Public Utilities found that WPU has some of the lowest rates of comparable energy providers.
“We provide services that obviously are pretty vital to all the residents and businesses of the community,” Hain said. “There’s the expectation that when you flip the switch, the lights are going to come on, when you open the faucet the water’s going to come out and when you flush the toilet, the water’s going to go away.”
One of the biggest reasons Hain was given the award this year was for his efforts outside of his normal duties.
Hain is a member of the Missouri River Energy Services board of directors and crucially, a member of the Lewis & Clark board of directors.
During the 2017 legislative session, state funding was secured to connect the Lewis & Clark water pipeline to Worthington, bringing the city a water source it had long yearned for.
It’s no secret Hain was very much involved in lobbying for it. He made countless trips to St. Paul to earn the support of legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton.
Gov. Dayton declared pipeline funding as his top priority coming into last year’s session - and he had long wanted to fund the Worthington connection, thanks in large part, to Hain’s efforts.
On April Fools Day 2013, Hain got on a conference call with Dayton, Rep. Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken. On the call, Dayton demanded answers for why the water pipeline connection to Worthington had not received federal funding.
“Honestly, Gov. Dayton dressed them down,” Hain said. “He basically said, ‘I don’t have a lot of confidence you guys are going to get this done, so I guess we’ll have to do it ourselves.’”
Dayton was right. Adequate federal funding had not been provided to Lewis & Clark, so the state of Minnesota approved two advances toward the project in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Now, the project is underway and expected to deliver clean, soft water by November. On a recent drive back to Worthington from a Missouri River Energy Services meeting in Sioux Falls, Hain hopped off the highway to drive along the water pipeline route.
Seeing the construction work ongoing was a surreal moment for Hain. This was a project 30 years in the making - and for a long time, it looked like it would never get done.
“You see the stacks up pipe laying around and you know it’s a reality now,” Hain said. “Whereas prior to that first advance back in 2014, we didn’t have a clue. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hain is quick to note that many other contributed to the success. Former Mayor Alan Oberloh was the man who got Dayton’s attention in the first place. Then there’s former WPU general manager Don Habicht, who helped get the project incorporated in 1990 and authorized by the federal government in 2000.
“The vision of the community at that time, even to get involved with a project like this, was incredible,” Hain said.
Not expecting it to come so soon, Hain had said he wouldn’t retire until he got Lewis & Clark water to Worthington.
“Well, now we’ve got it and I’m not ready to retire yet,” he said.
His new goal is to retire once he delivers a repayment check to the state of Minnesota for the millions of dollars the state invested into the project.
“I don’t know if I’ll be there long enough to see the state get repaid its entire advance, but I want to take that first check up to St. Paul and find somebody who knows what to do with it.”
Hain is the third person to be given the Excellence in Leadership Award since its inception in 2015. Finance Director Brian Kolander was given the inaugural award in 2015, and Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel was given the award last year.