GFOA SGF Member Spotlight: Joseph Starks

Joseph Starks is the Finance Director for North Branch, Minnesota, a city with a population of 10,700 and an organization with roughly fifty employees. He has been responsible for updating/adding financial policies, leading the City's ERP system implementation, bond refunding, starting a revolving loan fund to help businesses during the pandemic, leading the annual audit, leading process improvement, and ensuring the City is financially resilient, particularly during a global emergency.

He has also worked at the largest city in Minnesota, Minneapolis, with a population of nearly 500,000 and understands how a small government is much different than a larger government.

What makes your area unique?

The City of North Branch, Minnesota, sits close enough to the Twin Cities metro area to provide for people's big city needs, yet it is small enough to offer that hometown feel. We have crossroads going North/South in I-35 and East/West in MN-95 and have a trail system that links us to the Twin Cities and beyond. We have one of the largest solar farms in the Midwest and hundreds of acres preserved in the Janet Johnson Wildlife Area. The city has grown from severe debt issues to significant growth in Commercial/Industrial and Residential. Something unique to the area is that we have a component unit in North Branch Water and Light that handles water and electricity for the city. We are in the process of a fixed wireless project to expand high-speed Internet throughout the city.

Why do you serve as a finance professional?

I love numbers! I also like puzzles, and I think many of the things we do in government finance are very similar to putting together a puzzle. Similar to visualizing the picture on the puzzle box, we visualize the financial future of the city. We take note of what we have, identify what we need, create a long-term plan, and find the missing piece. Another reason is that I can fulfill my personal and professional needs while being part of something important. Whether directly or indirectly, we play a part in having a tangible impact on people's lives in a positive way. We are a significant part of improving lives and saving lives. How cool is that!

What do you think the challenges finance professionals will be facing in the near future or the distant future?

I believe a major challenge will be replacing the incredible knowledge, experience, and expertise that will be heading out the door as more finance professionals retire. Another challenge will be finding a way to attract and retain the younger generation's talents into government finance. It can be difficult to attract talented workers because there are certainly better-paying jobs in the private industry. Those who don't work in government finance sometimes think it's boring, too politicized, and that there are few opportunities to advance. I believe the most important part is getting them in the door because if you can do that, and show the meaningful work and clear mission they can be a part of – especially the pride of working for your local community – it will be attractive.