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Groden takes the reins in Greene County

Jan 11, 2011 7:02 am
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Shaun Groden, new county administrator, is profiled in this morning's Daily Mail, who also took this photo."][/caption]The Daily Mail has a story in their January 11 issue this morning welcoming Greene County's new administrator, Shaun Groden,who flew in to his new job last Sunday with his family, leaving behind him over six years of leadership in Michigan’s St. Clair County and a track record of positive municipal growth and development. His furniture was expected to arrive this week, according to the story by reporter Colin DeVries.

Groden, 53, is a native of Rochester and a successful leader in business and government. Coming from a county of similar wealth but with more than three times the population size, Groden expects to have a different but extremely constructive experience in Greene. St. Clair County’s annual budget is about $100 million compared with Greene County’s $99.3 million budget. According to 2009 census data, the population of St. Clair County was 167,000 and Greene County’s was 48,947. The mean income per household in St. Clair County was $61,088 in 2009, and $59,773 in Greene County.
DeVries' story continues with comparisons between here and midwestern Michigan, which makes us look pretty progressive, and even affluent.

Though the population of St. Clair County vastly exceeds Greene County’s, 20 percent of people there are unemployed, Groden said. Much of that due to the reduction in the auto industry around Detroit, 60 miles to the southwest of the St. Clair County city of Port Huron.

Unemployment hovers around 8 percent in Greene County and Groden intends to work toward improving that.

“At the end of the day, jobs are the issue,” he said during an interview last week. “I intend to be very active in economic development.”

During Groden’s job search last year, he was pleased to find that Greene County already had quality shovel-ready business parks with significant acreage for development. In fact, Groden said he had pushed his own county lawmakers in St. Clair County to purchase land for similar parks.

In Michigan, Groden had been president of St. Clair County’s Economic Development Alliance — similar to the Greene County Industrial Development Agency — and implemented a workforce training program for high school students called the National Career Readiness Certification Program. The program is becoming more popular among employers to test aptitude on prospective employees.

“We’re trying to branch out into new sectors,” he said. “We need to find where the jobs will be for tomorrow.”

Groden, who has a masters in public administration from SUNY Brockport, said change is the key to success in economic development and the job market.

“We need to keep up with the times,” he said. “If you were doing your job the way you were trained, you’re doing it wrong.”

The order of doing business continues to evolve and demands new efficiencies to save money, Groden said, making adaptability to changes paramount in importance.

As St. Clair County administrator Groden implemented an efficieny by cutting paper use — swapping case files in the district attorney’s office with laptops, for example.

He was also able to save the county money on a jail project when he first became St. Clair County administrator at the end of 2004, identifying savings through financial accounting.

He said he kept the budget balanced each year and improved the county’s credit rating, while making the budget process more transparent and open to public input.

Another efficiency he implemented in Michigan was continuity of services, allowing for more sharing of services and realizing a cost savings throughout the county. He also consolidated some departments to avoid duplicative waste.

St. Clair County can be described as an agrarian, waterfront community, similar to Greene County, but Groden knows there are significant differences and challenges ahead.

“I wanted to be able to come to something that needed change,” he said. “I was looking for an area in distress.”

Groden equated the principles of business to public administration as far as budgeting and the need to uncover new revenues or cut expenditures.

With New York’s depleted fiscal state, Groden knew Greene County may face significant mandates coming forward — something he is ready for.

While earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Groden “fell in love” with the budget process during an internship with the Monroe County budget office.

Forgoing an FBI career to become a public servant, Groden went on to work 15 years with the town of Greece. There he worked as director of finances on a $50 million budget.

After leaving Greece in 1997, he went into the private sector for several years until he returned to public administration in St. Clair County as administrator, a job he left in support of his family’s wishes.

Though he had other job offers, he chose Greene County for its forward-thinking business development, its solid credit rating and fiscal status, its recreational opportunities and an environment suitable for his wife and three children (all in their 20s).

It also helps that he loves to ski.

“I am not here by accident, I’m not here by happenstance,” he said. “I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Now here, Groden intends to make a positive impact on Greene County economics and apply his knowledge of municipal government and finances to inspire growth.

“When you have a career in public administration,” he said, “it’s of a desire to do something for the greater good.”

Groden’s three-year contract was unanimously approved by the county legislature at a salary of $132,000.
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