Johnny Ziem, assistant public works director, has built a life and career around service. Photo: Town of Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. — When the Town of Jackson’s Public Work’s Department installed the first electric vehicle charging stations, there was one electric car in town. As the man at the helm of that project, Johnny Ziem fielded a healthy dose of skepticism from the community. People wondered: Why bother? 

But Ziem, assistant director for the Public Works department, was looking ahead. Borrowing from the Kevin Costner classic “Field of Dreams,” Ziem knew that if he build it, “they will come.” And come they did.

Ziem’s foresight helped him win the “Alternate Fuels Accelerator Award” this year from Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities. The award recognizes his efforts facilitating the only two DC Fast Charging Stations in the state of Wyoming, and installing even more Level II charging stations around town.

Because like it or not, electric vehicles have arrived in Jackson. Ziem saw it coming and planned ahead.

“I’ve tried to think outside the box to get different types of infrastructure built that would help with our energy efficiency goals,” Ziem said in an interview with Buckrail. 

Wyoming’s two DC Fast Charging stations differ from their Level II predecessors in their charging speed. Level II stations can charge an electric vehicle in roughly five hours, Ziem said. Level III chargers, the ones for which Ziem was recognized, are higher-voltage, easier to use, and can fully charge an electric vehicle in about an hour. You can find them in the public parking garage in town.

“They’re the first ones installed in Wyoming; I’m super excited about that,” Ziem said. “We have plans for a bigger installation of level III chargers here in the next few years.”

Despite his foresight, Ziem is a man who tries to live in the present. His Jackson origin story is familiar: he moved here 25 years ago “for the season” to snowboard. He had no cell phone, no internet. All he knew about Jackson was the elevation at the top of Rendezvous Peak and how much snow they had gotten the year prior. That was enough for him.

He arrived in the dark. He fell in love.

He spent several years in permanent winter, splitting his time between Jackson and New Zealand. He met his wife in Fiji; they spent years doing “bucket list things:” traveling in Southeast Asia, living in India, hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Finally, they settled back in the valley, first in Victor and then in Jackson. They raised a daughter, now 14. By the time Ziem had his feet firmly planted in Wydaho dirt, he decided it was time to give back to the community that had given so much to him.

“I took so much from the community in terms of… my experiences,” he said. “It was all about me and my experiences. I want to be able to experience giving my time and anything I can back.”

That’s how he approaches his job at the Public Works department. He is a public servant, and his work should have a “big impact on people,” Ziem said.

Sometimes, that impact is obvious. Roads are plowed after a storm, and you can get to work. Other times it’s more subtle: clean drinking water, a functional sewer system. Things you don’t think about until they malfunction. Sometimes it’s creative — Ziem has a degree in architecture, and gets to use it for projects like sidewalks or street lights.

But it’s all exciting to Ziem. For a guy in charge of supplying energy, he’s full of it himself. His hands are never idle, he said. He obsesses over his hobbies, be they fishing, home brewing, baking, or skiing with his daughter. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word “bored.”

“There’s always something fun and exciting to do, no matter the weather or temperature,” Ziem said. “Every day’s an adventure; you never know what to expect.”

So at home, he lives in the present. At work, he continues to look ahead. He’s working on more solar systems to power the town; he’s buying and powering electric vehicles; he’s expanding a wetland system at a treatment plant so water can flow through and get clean. He’s “constantly learning.”

“Having a kid, you constantly think about them and their future,” Ziem said. “If we aren’t changing the system a little bit, changing how we operate as a society, things will stay the same.”

Buckrail @ Shannon

Shannon is a Wyoming-raised writer and reporter. She just completed a master's in journalism from Boston University. Jackson shaped her into an outdoorswoman, but a love for language and the human condition compels her to write. She believes there's no story too small to tell nor adventure too small to take.