Rusty Fifield's passion has always been developing communities.

After graduating with a master's degree in planning, Fifield took a job as the assistant to the city administrator in North Mankato. At the age of 25, he became the first city manager of St. James, a small town in southwest Minnesota.

Despite starting his career in the public sector, Fifield has spent a majority of his time doing financial consulting for several Minnesota cities. Now he has come back to the public sector, serving as Hastings' economic development coordinator since April.

Fifield got his first taste of Hastings in 1986 when he had the opportunity to work on the city's downtown plan. He also worked on the plan's update in 2003.

Fifield was reconnected with the community last year when the city of Hastings hired the financial consulting firm, Northland Securities, which he had been working with for 10 years.

"I reached the point with financial consulting where I was ready to do something different. When they were having trouble filling the position earlier this year, we just ended up talking about it. It seemed like a good next chapter in my life," Fifield said.

Fifield first realized his interest in economic development when he was working as a financial advisor for the city of Edina on the development of Centennial Lakes. While working on the project, Fifield saw an example of how a community government could take its limited resources and foster the type of private development they wished to see.

"It's always been a natural cross between my interests in community development and my role as a financial consultant," Fifield said.

Hastings' building blocks

For the last couple of months, Fifield has learned more about the work that has been done before him.

"Economic development is not new in Hastings. They've done a lot of planning and I'm trying to learn about where Hastings is today," Fifield said.

In a nutshell, Fifield said, his responsibilities lie in understanding what Hastings has done to get to where it is today, where it wants to go in the future, and offer ideas to city council or the economic development authority about what the city can do to make those things happen.

"It's not really about my goals - it's the goals of the city. What are the goals of the city council? What are the goals of the economic development authority? What are the goals of the community," Fifield said. "I think my responsibility, in part, is helping Hastings tap its potential."

Part of what makes Hastings a great place for economic development Fifield said, is the history, sense of community and the parks system.

"I think Hastings stands apart from a lot of places. It's been around since 1857 - it's one of the oldest cities in the state. It's on the Mississippi River," Fifield said. "I think having older neighborhoods, which feel like some in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a great school system and having a lot of outdoor activities ought to make us even more attractive to a broader range of people."

One challenge that Fifield is excited to tackle is the puzzle around why Hastings hasn't seen much growth over the last 10 years. Fifield feels that with his past experiences working with many different cities in the state, he will get to start cracking the case.

Fifield said that he believes the next few years will be interesting for Hastings, with many growth opportunities, citing projects like the Great River Landing, the connection of bike paths from Hastings to St. Paul and more housing development.