Blaine, Washington, a city of 5,000 people, is bounded by Puget Sound to the west, the Cascades to the east, and Canada to the north. As the third largest US-Canada border crossing, City Manager Dave Wilbrecht, MPA ’89, not only serves the community but serves the people of the United States.
“We work hand-in-hand with federal agencies,” Wilbrecht said from his office in downtown Blaine. “We have more federal law enforcement here, and we work with them on the national agenda. We also have a local agenda like every other city.”
Wilbrecht came to Blaine in July 2013 after a varied career in both private and public sectors, including taking a city manager’s job for a community in bankruptcy. He started his career in public service as a group counselor for Snohomish County, WA. He advanced his career in various city positions to qualify for his first management position as the operations manager for the Parks and Recreation Department in Redmond, WA. After seven years, he decided to get his Master’s in Public Administration at Seattle University.
“I began interacting with more and more elected officials and city executives as my career developed. I looked at what they had done, and almost everyone had graduate degrees,” he recalled. “I knew I needed more than a bachelor’s degree and decided to get a master’s, and the Seattle University program was the best fit for someone working and with a young family.”
Wilbrecht did not advance his career in public service immediately after earning his degree. Realizing that many people in government did not have private sector experience or understood business needs, he went to work for GTE in its information systems program and then real estate development. Within five years and gaining the experience he wanted, he was back in public service, taking the position of Deputy Director of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services in the City of Federal Way, Washington.
Since then, Wilbrecht rose to the top of his field. As County Administrative Officer of Mono County, California, he worked with the Board of Supervisors on a major reorganization of county government. Then, as Town Manager of Mammoth Lakes, California, he pulled the town out of bankruptcy and reduced its $42 million financial obligation to $29.5 million.
Although Blaine experienced the effects of the national recession in 2008-09, former City Manager Gary Tomsic had guided the city well, and unlike Mammoth Lakes, Wilbrecht inherited a community that had weathered difficult times.
“People don’t realize that Blaine’s economy includes a vibrant manufacturing sector,” he emphasized. “Canadian companies have expanded to Blaine to expand into the American market -- everything from eyeglasses to peanut butter – without having border or customs issues.”
Fedex and UPS trucks are frequent sights in Blaine, mainly because Canadians drive to Blaine to pick up packages. Those parcel deliveries generate a major source of income for the city.
“Blaine has become a hub for cross-border transactions. Rather than have items delayed in customs at the international border, Canadians will have their products drop-shipped here where sales taxes are charged. The sales tax from those shipments supports a large part of our $5 million budget.” he explained.
Although Wilbrecht clearly enjoys the community and takes full advantage of the natural beauty and outdoor activities of the Northwest, he is focused on growing the economy. When the city closed its small airport, the 27-acre parcel became ripe for redevelopment.
“Every city manager suffers from demanding and expanding needs with limited resources,” he said. “We have to figure out how to balance those needs with resources. Developing the airport land, improving and stabilizing the budget, enhancing downtown investment, and bringing in living wage jobs are my top priorities. Working in small communities, dealing with budgets and working on complex projects, that’s what I enjoy best about my job.”
Watch the video: See and hear from David Wilbrecht about his new position as City Manager of Blaine Washington and why he chose Seattle University's MPA graduate degree program to advance his career.
Published January 2014.