20 Under 40: Nate Browning keeps family ties strong, pursues aptitude for science at Craig Station
Nate Browning wears many, many hats here in the community. In his professional life, Browning is the WSO manager at Craig Station, is heavily involved in his church, as well as other numerous nonprofit organizations sprinkled throughout Craig and Moffat County.
Additionally, Browning coaches youth sports, and even cooks at a local youth camp for a week each summer, giving back to the community that he grew up in.
“Nathan is a solid and stable member of our community and always available to help those in need,” said Len Browning, Nate’s dad, who nominated Nate for “20 Under 40.”
Impending changes will affect Browning’s way of life in Craig and Moffat County with the news about Craig Station and the future, but for now he’s taking a positive approach to the situation, seeing the changes as an opportunity for Craig and Moffat County to thrive in a new way.
In your chosen career field, how has the job evolved since you first began?
In my career field of power plant chemist a lot has changed during the last 10 years especially with political and environmental policy. When I first started in the power industry coal units were base loaded and were online and full load the majority of the time. I am amazed at the transformation we have seen from base loaded to units cycling, having economic shutdowns in the spring and fall, and cycling up and down following wind and solar outputs. On the chemistry side I am seeing more and more units ramping faster and allowing water chemistry to go outside of limits that would not have been acceptable 10 years ago. In order to be viable these units are ramping faster and ignoring water chemistry excursions. If they can’t ramp up fast then they will not be able to run in this energy economy.
How do you feel your line of work is different from someone in a similar job a generation before you?
The generation before me never thought coal power plants would be under attack like they are today. Back then large, clean coal units were king and all the resources were available to keep these units running. Capital improvements were made to keep the units running well. Today there is less capital for improvements, and we are all trying to do more with less including less staff. Another area that I think has changed is the amount of automation and sophisticated controls. There is less manual operation and more things controlled by computer.
What kind of challenges do you feel like you and your coworkers will face in the next decade?
Obviously the biggest challenge that we will face in the next 10 years is the shutdown of Craig Station, ColoWyo mine, and Trapper Mine. Those shutdowns will directly affect 600+ workers who have relied on these steady, well-paying jobs. In the short term the challenge we are facing is operating the plant in a safe and economical way as we make this transition and eventually shutdown and decommission the station. I am a native of Craig and would like to see Craig find innovative ways to prosper in the future. Although I do not anticipate a future Craig like we have had the past 40 years I do see a bright and prosperous future for Craig on a smaller scale. The challenges are great for me and my co-workers, but the opportunities are also great. Tri-State is offering training and educational opportunities that can help transition a worker from the power plant to a future career.
What is the most rewarding part of your job on a day to day basis?
Honestly the most rewarding part of my job is being part of a vital service that all Americans expect and have come to rely on. We are very fortunate to live in a time and country where we have reliable electricity that we have come to rely so heavily on. Keeping the lights on is the most rewarding part of my job. My past job also provided an essential service of treating sewage for the City of Craig so I guess most of my career has been in providing essential services that all Americans rely on and are fortunate to have.
If you hadn’t gone down your particular career path, what else would you have liked to do with your life?
Most of my childhood I wanted to be a professional athlete, it wasn’t until high school that I finally realized that God had not blessed me with the talent or body to be a professional athlete. At that point I realized that God had blessed me with the ability to learn math and science so that was always where my career path was heading. When I first went to college I wanted to work in a forensic science lab and solve crimes based on science and chemistry. As I started to look more into that career I realized that I would have to live in a large city for that career. Unfortunately I could not find one single forensic science job in a small town like Craig.
What types of jobs would you avoid at all costs?
In my career I have done jobs that were very strenuous as well as dirty and those didn’t really bother me. In fact working at the City of Craig Wastewater Treatment Plant was one of the best jobs I have ever had. The job I would avoid at all costs is either being a middle school teacher or a monotonous job like an assembly line worker. Dealing with my own middle school-aged child was hard enough I could not have dealt with 30 of them at once. I have a lot of respect for teachers that can put up with a whole classroom of sixth- or seventh-graders. I’m sure that is one of the most thankless jobs there is.
How do you feel your work-life balance differs from those of your parents/grandparents?
I feel like I have a pretty good work life balance compared to a lot of people in my generation. One thing that definitely differs between me and my parents or grandparents is the constant emails that I receive on a daily basis. My father worked a lot when I was growing up, but once he was home there were rarely interruption from work. My wife is often frustrated with me checking my email on my cell phone at night or on weekends, but for me it is almost impossible not to stay tuned in. I didn’t realize how much of a burden it was for me until I went on vacation out of the country a few years ago. For eight days my cell phone was turned off and I could feel a weight lifted off my shoulders just from not constantly receiving emails. It was really relaxing until I got back home and turned my phone on and had 1,800 emails in my inbox.
How do you feel everyday life is better or worse in 2020 with certain technology shifts?
Like I said before I think cell phones and technology has made everyday life better and worse at the same time. It is so handy to be able to be at the grocery store and get a text to also pick up milk. On the other hand I struggle with my kids constantly wanting to be on a phone or video game instead of being outside or playing with friends. When I was a kid you went to your friend’s house and played video games together, today they just chat online with people and lose out on a lot of the fellowship that I had when I was a kid. I recently read an article that said 50% of people in the United States did zero outdoor recreation last year. I feel like the changes in technology has led to this shift in our society. I guess people are content with seeing the outdoors through their smart phone or Facebook, but not me.
What kind of strengths or weaknesses do you believe your generation brings to your career field?
I think the biggest strength that I have seen my generation bring to my career field is our ability to adapt to change, especially when it comes to technology and computers. Where I currently work and at the City of Craig I was fortunate enough to work with very experienced co-workers, some that had been in their careers for longer than I have been alive. What I often notice is that when something changes my generation is quick to adapt and is generally positive toward the change. The more experienced workers often tell me things like “this is never going to work” or “it never used to be like that” and are generally less positive about the change. I think my generation’s weakness is that we often rely too much on technology and don’t have as good of an understanding of how things work. For example at the power plant there are a lot of systems that are automated and I see my generation relying on the automation, but they do not fully understand the process like the generation before them does.
How do you feel your generation fits into Moffat County’s future?
This is a tough question and one that, to me, is up in the air right now. Without fundamental changes to Craig’s economy and way of thinking Moffat County’s future does not look bright for my generation. I have heard Moffat County will be losing about 60% of their tax base when the power plant shuts down. Without changes beginning now to soften the blow in 8 to 10 years it will be tough for someone in my generation to remain living and working in Craig.
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