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Johnson is excited about city's future

Dwight Johnson's first experience with the city of Rosemount came several decades ago. He was a student at Carleton College in Northfield at the time, and a class on government frequently sent him to the capitol in St. Paul. His route took him up Highway 3 through Rosemount.

"It was certainly smaller (then)," said Johnson, who city council members selected last week as Rosemount's new city administrator. "I can't say I remember specific buildings. I remember I got a bike once when I was in college and I rode it all the way up to Rosemount to test it out."

Back in those days Johnson, who was born in Chicago and graduated from high school in Nebraska, was majoring in government and international relations. He had visions of a career in state or national politics. That seemed like where all the interesting stuff was happening.

It was while working a part time job with the city engineer's office in Northfield that Johnson discovered the appeal of local government. He helped with survey and drafting work and with the design of parking lots.

"I liked the idea of being able to see the result of your work right away and literally in concrete terms," Johnson said. "I think it's actually more fun and in some ways more important. We're literally responsible for people's safety right in their backyard."

Johnson got a master's in public administration from the University of Colorado at Boulder, then got his first job in Carney, Neb. He was there for three years before moving on to Grand Island, Neb.

Grand Island was a city of about 35,000 when Johnson started working there, the third largest city in Nebraska. It was an important retail center, with ranchers coming from 100 miles away to shop.

After 10 years in Grand Island Johnson came to Minnesota as the city manager in Shoreview.

"We were very interested in being in Minnesota," Johnson said. "My wife grew up in St. Paul and had a lot of relatives there. I think both of us were interested in being in the metro area."

From Shoreview, Johnson moved to Plymouth, a city of about 60,000 at the time. He was in Plymouth from 1993 to 2003. Money Magazine recently named the city the best place to live in its population category.

Johnson deflects most of the credit for that accomplishment, but the magazine cited as part of its justification an amphitheater Johnson helped develop in the city, among other projects in which Johnson had a hand.

Johnson left Plymouth in 2003 when his wife had a chance to take a position as a vice president at a university in the Chicago area.

"I thought Chicago was a big place. I can find something to do," Johnson said.

What he found was Homer Glen, a Chicago suburb that sounds more than a little like Rosemount. It has a population of 25,000 and much of its 22 square miles is undeveloped.

Ultimately, though, Johnson always knew he'd come back to Minnesota. Two of his three children live in the Twin Cities. Johnson said Rosemount feels like a good fit for him.

"I've been in fast-growing cities for most of my career," he said. "I guess in some ways I've specialized in fast-growing cities. It's also intriguing that Rosemount has a lot of history and a traditional downtown. That's an interesting project from a professional point of view."

Johnson said dealing with the kind of growth Rosemount is likely to experience in the years ahead -- with projects like the University of Minnesota's UMore Park set to bring in as many as 30,000 new residents in the next 25 years -- takes a lot of planning.

"I think it's just kind of understanding the need to be looking well ahead ... and just constantly planning all aspects together and how they relate," Johnson said. "Just managing a city is so much fun, and to be in such an active place like Rosemount, I think the one thing I can be absolutely sure of is it will never be boring.

"I think it will be fun to be here."

Johnson still needs to work out the details of his contract with the Rosemount City Council. He said he aims to be in his new job by Aug. 18.