In some ways, Braden Labenz’s heart has always been in his native Columbus.
The Scotus Central Catholic alumnus has long appreciated what the area has had to offer and now gets the opportunity to work in his hometown as a young professional.
Labenz recently joined the City of Columbus as a project engineer, working under the direction of City Engineer Rick Bogus.
Despite starting in his new role just this month, Labenz is no stranger to the City. He interned with the engineering department during the summers of 2018 (before his senior year of high school) and 2019 (before his freshman year of college), where he obtained valuable experience.
But like many, Labenz had aspirations to seek opportunities outside of Columbus.
“When you grow up everyone wants to make an impact on their community because their community makes an impact on them. But then you get out of high school and it’s, ‘oh, I want to go experience something new,’” Labenz said. “I was in that same boat.”
Labenz wasted no time getting to work, attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Omaha and graduating in just three-and-a-half years with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with a 4.0 GPA in December 2022. Along the way to completing his studies, he took on internships to continue gaining experience.
That included a civil engineering internship with Hensel Phelps in the summer of 2021 and serving as a highway/railroad bridge intern with HDR from December 2021-August 2022.
“All of those internships were priceless learning experiences for me,” Labenz recalled.
Labenz was part of teams developing projects in big cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, Denver and locations in California. There was just one problem.
“I couldn’t see the impact I was making,” he said. “So, I didn’t always know I wanted to come back to Columbus. It’s definitely been a process, but I think I started realizing the value in the community that was established in me. I really cherish that.”
Bogus said Labenz’s past internships with the City worked to both their benefits, as they had a sense of familiarity with each other and the work that is required. Labenz will be directly assisting Bogus in the design and planning of projects, handling initial drafting and attending community meetings, among other responsibilities.
“He fits really well. He’s a smart kid,” Bogus said. “To bring back a young professional like Braden is very exciting, and it’s good for the community to have a local kid come back and do good. Every time we can do more of that in the community, it’s fantastic.”
Labenz acknowledged Columbus isn’t the youngest community, but he’s hoping he starts a new trend of people in their 20s moving back to town.
“It’s definitely intimidating to come back because there are not a lot of people from the younger generation here, but I think Columbus has a lot to offer,” he said. “Columbus is a community of strong individuals who come together when times get tough. You have neighbors you can talk to, and you can build a family within the community. Everybody in Columbus is really helpful, so I’ve always been really inspired by that.”
Labenz said Columbus has a quality that sets it apart from other communities.
“I think the pull for me and a lot of younger professionals is that Columbus has a simplicity to it. I can focus on myself and my own life instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses,” he said, adding family is of great importance to him. “There’s not all the hustle and bustle. Columbus is not a small town, but it’s not a metro area. It felt like a very good fit here for me.”
Labenz, who is now also pursuing his Master of Science in Civil Engineering through online courses with the University of Oklahoma on his own time, has jumped right into his new role. He said he appreciates the camaraderie among those in the engineering department and throughout City Hall. He’s eager to be part of efforts such as the Downtown Revitalization Plan.
“Future developments and all the potential in Columbus were a big pull for me,” he said. “I am super excited to see what happens next."
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: City of Columbus Project Engineer Braden Labenz, left, talks over plans for a project with City Engineer Rick Bogus on a recent morning at City Hall.)