SouthWest Transit’s lengthy search for a new leader has culminated in the hiring of Erik Hansen.
Hansen, age 52, will start as CEO on June 5. He replaces Len Simich, who had served as SouthWest Transit’s CEO since 1997. Simich informed the commission of his retirement plans in 2021, and the agency subsequently hired one search firm, then another after being turned down by two CEO finalists.
Hansen brings local-government management and business-management experience to SouthWest Transit, most recently as the city administrator of Tracy, a community of about 2,100 residents in southwestern Minnesota.
Prior to being hired by the City of Tracy in 2020, he held a variety of positions in Colorado, some of them elected. He was general manager of the Todd Creek Village Metropolitan District, a municipal water district, for 10 months; an Adams County commissioner in the suburban Denver area for eight years; a mayor and council member for the City of Thornton for nine years; and a marketing and e-commerce executive for several companies.
While in Colorado, he helped found the North Area Transportation Alliance and Smart Commute Metro North, organizations that promote public transit. He has an MBA degree from the University of Denver.
“I’m excited, obviously,” Hansen said about his hiring. “SouthWest Transit is a great organization.”
In a news release, SouthWest Transit said Hansen’s experience collaborating with business and community leaders makes him the fitting leader to continue SouthWest’s success.
PG Narayanan, an Eden Prairie City Council member and vice chair of the SouthWest Transit Commission, said national search firm Baker Tilly US provided 18 candidates which were then narrowed to four before the commission on May 10 approved a contract for presentation to Hansen. It was signed by the CEO candidate the next day.
SouthWest Transit staff said Hansen will have a base salary of $170,000.
Narayanan said it was important to hire someone who has experience working closely with many levels of local government. SouthWest Transit has close ties with its founding cities of Eden Prairie, Chanhassen, and Chaska; works in concert with the regional Metropolitan Council; and receives funding from state and federal governments. Existing SouthWest Transit staff, added Narayanan, can help provide Hansen a great deal of the specific knowledge about local public transit.
Hansen acknowledged that one of his strong suits is experience working with various levels of government across a region, and he likened his work near Denver to his new role southwest of Minneapolis.
“We were kind of a suburban edge community – similar in terms of being a high-growth area,” he said, “with a very similar issue of how to provide transit in that suburban environment.”
“The commission is grateful that we were able to conclude this process and bring Erik on board,” commission Chair Jerry McDonald said in the news release, “and we’re looking forward to working with him to continue to move SouthWest Transit forward.”
Hansen said he has already purchased a home in Chanhassen.
Headquartered in Eden Prairie, SouthWest Transit services include transportation to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, as well as the popular on-demand ride service known as SW Prime. It has a bus fleet of 92 vehicles and a 2023 budget of $16 million.
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