Nobles County hires new public works director, county engineer
County Engineer Aaron Holmbeck, who will also serve as public works director, began working for the county in September.
WORTHINGTON — Aaron Holmbeck knew he wanted to be a civil engineer by the time he was a sophomore in high school because he’d worked for his father, a licensed land surveyor.
Now Holmbeck is the public works director and engineer for Nobles County, hired on Sept. 13 and officially appointed by the Nobles County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 21.
“I always enjoyed building things and solving problems,” Holmbeck said. “I loved playing Legos and building things and improving things — and making it stronger.”
He thought about going into land surveying, but his father told him engineering would give him more responsibilities and better pay, too. It also fit how he was wired as a person, with his math skills and critical thinking abilities, so he completed two years of engineering curriculum during high school through St. Cloud State University, and then completed a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Holmbeck’s philosophy as an engineer is to preserve and maintain existing infrastructure in order to make it last as long as possible, because as he explains it, any repair or improvement to a road is really a purchase of time to make that structure last longer.
“The goal is to find the most economical way to purchase time,” Holmbeck said. “Everything gets older. We’re in the business of trying to find the best, most (efficient way) to purchase the most time for the dollars.”
Generally speaking, when engineers need to start over and build something from the beginning, that’s far more costly than making appropriate repairs and doing preventative maintenance, he added, comparing sealing and repairing cracks to changing the oil in a vehicle.
As the county engineer, Holmbeck will oversee more than 300 bridges and nearly 400 miles of paved highways in Nobles County, plus just under 80 miles of gravel roads. A lot of improvements have already been made in the county, he said, such as the work that’s been done to replace bridges.
“One of the reasons I even came to this job was that I feel that I have some key experience and skills that will be a benefit to the county in the years ahead,” Holmbeck said, noting that he has worked with a number of smaller counties and communities during his time as a consultant, and learned a lot from many people.
His experience is significant, and includes time as a civil engineering technician for the city of Bloomington; as well as serving as a registered engineer for engineering, architecture and planning firm, TKDA, in St. Paul; a construction department manager/project engineer/civil project manager for AECOM/STS Consultants in Plymouth; and a project manager/project engineer/civil construction engineer for WHKS & Co. in Mason City, Iowa.
Most recently, he was a civil engineer and project manager for ISG/I+S Group in Algona, Iowa from 2015-2016; served as county engineer for the County Secondary Road Department in Osceola County, Iowa, from 2016-2020; and then became the senior engineer/area manager for Brosz Engineering in Sioux Falls, S.D. in 2020.
All that engineering experience has meant that he’s gotten to see the longer-term results of various methods people use to preserve roads and keep them in good condition for longer.
As public works director, plenty of other things fall under Holmbeck’s purview, from the highway and engineering departments to the environmental department, the county parks and ditches and even building maintenance.
Since he started last month, he is still in a learning phase, looking at projects on the county’s five-year plan and learning more about Nobles County’s needs and priorities.
“It’s been good so far," Holmbeck said. “It’s been a pleasure to meet so many great people. I’m still learning a lot. I’m excited to move forward and put my skills to use.”
He and his department are getting ready for what lies ahead — which includes snow, and snow removal. Holmbeck and his department command a fleet of about a dozen plows and already, county personnel are mixing salt and sand in preparation for the winter.
“We’re getting ready for it. We know it’s gonna come,” Holmbeck said.
He reminded people not to move snow onto the roadways, and to keep snow off the right-of-way, too.
More generally, Holmbeck encouraged county residents to call public works if there’s an issue, especially if something’s not right or doesn’t look safe.
“It is valuable to communicate with us — because we do care,” he said. “The goal is safety here.”