FAIRMONT - Wes Clerc is a long-time veteran on Fairmont City Council; Craig S. Nelson is the newcomer. Both men are vying for voters in the race for the at-large council seat.
Nelson moved back to Fairmont five years ago, after moving away as a teen-ager in the 1960s. He has worked in systems analysis, first in the Twin Cities, then Fort Lauderdale, then Seattle, before settling in Fresno, Calif.
"I was able to retire anywhere, and I chose Fairmont," he said, noting the day after he retired, he was in his car headed back to his hometown.
His top priority if elected is economic development, in order to stop the city's population decline.
"Given the high proportion of elderly in our city and the aging baby boomers, it's reasonable to expect that shrinkage to accelerate as the decade wears on," Nelson wrote in a letter seeking the Sentinel's endorsement. "In my opinion, we have perhaps a three- or four-year window in which to stem the tide."
Training for youths is one way to solve the problem, he believes, but "not just training for 19th-Century manufacturing, but even more importantly for 21st-Century production."
Welding, building and ag programs at Fairmont High School is a good step, but Nelson also recommends looking into robotics, nanotechnology and 3D printing, just to name a few of the options.
"In the articles I've been reading, 5 million labor jobs are supposed to be coming back to the U.S.," he said. "Shouldn't we be able to snag some of those?"
Parks are another passion Nelson has.
"We have 27 parks. St. Peter, relatively close to us in population, has 16. I'm in favor of a strong park system, but 17? Certainly there must be some that require maintenance yet are hardly ever used by anyone," Nelson said.
His suggestion is to talk to local groups, like the Master Gardeners in Fairmont, arborists and 4-H, to see if it would be realistic for a private organization to create a preservation association to care for any of Fairmont's park properties. Nelson, himself, has spent much of his summer at Lincoln Park, planting and tending the flower beds there.
He also dreams of creating more signage on Interstate 90, reading "Fairmont ... Open for Business."
"As a councilman at-large, I'd give 'open up Fairmont' pep talks to any service club or group that will schedule me," he said. "The Blue Earth City Council mulls adding a large industrial park adjacent to the freeway. The Fairmont City Council mulls adding a dog park. That contrast speaks volumes."
At the same time, Nelson believes the council could cut some spending.
"I have reviewed the budget, and I do not think the 3 percent levy increase is necessary," he said.
Besides being an avid gardener, Nelson is a voracious reader, attends First Congregational UCC, and has memberships and subscriptions with Fairmont Opera House and Fairmont Concert Association.
Clerc first joined the council in 1991, as the representative of Ward 1, and has since served in the at-large position. He says he's glad to have a competitor as he runs for another term.
"When you have people competing, it brings out the issues," he said.
What are those issues?
Continuing economic growth, for one, which makes his biggest concern Fairmont's school system. (Fairmont Area Schools will be cutting co-curricular activities if its learning levy fails to pass on Nov. 6.)
"When individuals look at our city for new businesses or to move to town, they look at our schools," said Clerc, a successful area entrepreneur, who owns the McDonalds restaurants in Fairmont and several neighboring towns.
"It's imperative we support our school system whether we have kids in school or not," he said.
Another area of economic concern for Clerc is the health care in Fairmont, namely, the Mayo Clinic Health System site.
"It's in a transition phase," he acknowledged. "Obviously there are outside influences with federal government, and then there are the changes in providers. Mayo's stability will help in the long run, but we need to feel they have a strong local presence."
As for the city itself, Clerc believes City Hall has been pro-active with economic development and keeping taxes reasonable.
"It's a fine balance between the two," he said. "... You want to keep government small, keep it efficient, but make sure you're meeting the needs of your residents and existing businesses and doing whatever you can to support them."
Last, but not least, Clerc feels a well-trained workforce is vital in ensuring Fairmont's prosperity. Steps the city has taken to assist with that effort include holding sessions with local businesses, which helped create the ag program at Fairmont High School; and offering a campus for schools like Presentation College to address the nursing shortage.
Clerc is pleased with the direction the city is headed, and he is looking forward to working with a new city administrator, Mike Humpal, if re-elected.
"I feel I can offer my experience and counsel to him," Clerc said, referring to both his experience on the council and as a businessman, where he is constantly engaging with customers and employees, and applying listening and problem-solving skills.
"I don't do anything that I don't have a passion for," he said. "A lot of people ask, 'When are you going to retire from McDonalds?' 'When are you going to retire from the council?'
"When you have fun with what you're doing and enjoy it, it really doesn't seem like work."
In the future, he would like to see the city collaborating more with the school and Martin County, and he cited recent instances of successful cost-sharing measures, like the county and city working together on a commuter program and an airport improvement project, and the city and school also collaborated with the sale of Budd School.
"My tenure has not been about me. It's been about the citizens: making sure Fairmont is a great place to live, to work, to raise a family."
Wes and his wife Linda have five children and 14 grandchildren.