2024 Industry Icon: bringing the industry together

May 14, 2024
Harry Stark, founder of Tinker’s Creek Watershed Partners, chairman of the Ohio Stormwater Conference, and more, is this year's Industry Icon.

LIKE MANY IN THE WATER INDUSTRY, Harry Stark happened upon it.

After changing his mind about joining the United States Navy, Stark found himself in college earning a degree in biology with a minor in math. After college, Stark was doing wetland research and stormwater work when a position opened with the State of Florida.

The rest, as they say, is history.

For many in the stormwater industry, Stark’s name is synonymous with the Ohio Stormwater Conference. However, Stark’s career spans far beyond the annual conference, which is why he is the 2024 Stormwater Solutions’ Industry Icon.

Career path 

Since the early 1990s, Stark has been a public service figure in Ohio. Starting in 1992, Stark worked his way up the ranks for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health from program manager to deputy director. From there, Stark became the assistant director of Public Service and director of Economic Development for the City of Wadsworth, where he served from 2010 to 2018.

In 2006, he took on additional work when he became a founder of the Tinker’s Creek Watershed Partners, a non-profit organization whose mission is to restore water quality and habitats of the Tinker’s Creek and Brandywine Creek watersheds. Since its founding, Stark has served as its past president, executive director and conference director — conference director of the Ohio Stormwater Conference, specifically, of which he has been chairman of since 2008. This is arguably Stark’s most popular role, and one most in the industry know him by.  

After attending another industry conference, StormCon, Stark was inspired to bring a show to Ohio, so he brought the idea home. He recalls telling a few individuals about his idea, and they dared him to kick it off.

“They said ‘well, yeah, why don’t you do it?’” Stark said. “And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to do it. I can’t do it.’ And then they talked me into it.”

The first Ohio show was in 2008 with Stark and a small team at the helm. Stark anticipated about 100 people and a handful of exhibitors that first year.

“We did it and had no idea what we were doing,” Stark said. “Absolutely no idea.”

When registration opened, they got 400 registrants and about 60 exhibitors. It has grown since then to about 1,000 attendees and has an often-sold-out exhibit floor. On top of leveraging networking in the industry and providing education, Stark also focuses on the lighter side.

“You have got to enjoy what you do because you’re making a difference in some manner, and you always have to keep that in mind,” Stark said. “Even though sometimes you can get lost in the details, and I think that the one thing I always try to do (is) create a conference and educational outreach arena for everything that we do that has that fun atmosphere with it.”

Kelly Kuhbander, who met Stark through the Ohio Stormwater Conference and then served on the board, said Stark is not afraid to break the mold and try something new, such as when it came to creating the show.

“Regardless of whether he is excited and happy about something or whether he is frustrated about something, you will feel his passion and his energy that he brings to everything he does, and I just love that because to me that shows how much he cares,” Kuhbander said.

Leading the way 

Recently, in Aurora, Stark was integral in getting a stormwater management model and plan done for the entire city. At his insistence, the town hired an outside source to develop the plan and make recommendations. Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin, who refers to Stark as her stormwater guru, said she is sure the town will be using that plan for years to come.

“I’m a problem solver, and I am not a stormwater person, but we have many stormwater issues in the city, and I’ve dealt with them for 10 years,” Womer Benjamin said. “Harry is a problem solver and understands stormwater and has really been able to come up with solutions and plans that are improving our stormwater management across the city.”

In addition to the stormwater management model, Stark has also helped the city secure a FEMA grant to purchase and replace homes that continuously flood with stormwater BMPs. In one such location of this project, the homes that are demolished will leave room to increase the flood plain and assist in flood mitigation. Additionally, Stark has helped the city of Aurora update its stormwater regulations. These projects speak to his leadership and initiative in the industry.

“Personally, I feel like the most important qualities of a leader are to be trustworthy, honest and authentic, and he is all three of those,” Danielle Brown, who worked with Stark in Wadsworth, said. “He is true to himself, true to everybody else. He always has clear visions for what he is trying to achieve and somehow has this innovative ability to rally everyone around him to achieve that vision.”

And with challenges that constantly test the industry, such as funding gaps and changing climate patterns, Stark has ideas on how the industry can band together and move forward. “You’ve got a lot of great people out there who are passionate about stormwater and water quality ... and I think those people should be applauded for everything that they’ve done,” Stark said.

Aside from passion, Stark reminds industry professionals that coming together, attending conferences, going to workshops and having conversations will foster collaboration and problem solving. All are things he has done in his career, and he said he plans to keep doing what he is doing as he tries to make a difference. Though, it is clear he has already accomplished that.

"I think we all want to make a difference while we are here," Stark said. "I have always had that mentality in everything I have tried to do through my career and free time. I am in public service because I always wanted to help the public. I felt I could help people and the environment through public service."



About the Author

Katie Johns

Katie Johns, editor-in-chief of Stormwater Solutions, graduated from the University of Missouri in 2016 with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Johns joined the Stormwater Solutions team in September 2019. Johns also helps plan the annual StormCon conference and co-hosts the Talking Under Water podcast. Prior to entering the B2B industry, she worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in Sarasota, Florida, and a magazine assistant editor in the Chicago suburbs. She can be reached at [email protected].