With his background in public finance, City Manager Fox Simons has been instrumental in propelling economic growth for the community of Myrtle Beach (and others). His expertise in managing finances, strategically moving the chess pieces to attract developers, and securing funds from bonds has been a boon for the city.
When it comes to public service and community involvement, Simons has a wealth of experience to draw from. Growing up in Syracuse, New York, he was surrounded by family members who modeled a dedication to helping others in this way. His grandfather was a district attorney in New York for many years, while his father was committed to giving back and making a difference. It wasn’t until his college years that he discovered a passion for city management that would shape his future.
As a young college student, Simons was unsure of which direction to take. He found his way into political science almost by accident. “I started out as a history major, but political science courses were simply interesting to me and helped my GPA. Before I knew it, I was a double major and on the precipice of graduation.” Though he’d initially been on track to attend law school, his advisor suggested city management– and that’s where his journey began.
“I was accepted into one of the top 10 public administration schools in the U.S., which helped me to break into local government. Most people wanted to go federal or work think tank jobs, but I had no interest in that. I ended up working for the International City/County Management Association for a year and a half before returning to local government in Syracuse. I’m not a big-city guy, and nothing beats the sense of fulfillment that comes from serving the local community. For me, public service isn’t just a career– it’s a way of life. I love my job, and I get to work with amazing people who share a passion for making a difference.”
“My philosophy is simple; it all starts with the elected officials and their vision for their community. My job is to see that vision through, but only if the elected officials are committed to growth and economic development. I believe that effective economic development can make a difference to millions when done right.”
Simons first started working for Myrtle Beach in 2015 as an assistant city manager, serving a population of over 35,000 with a $337 million budget. “If the vision is right, the resources will follow. Each city is unique, and it’s my job to understand what each one needs. Successful economic development is all about getting the right pieces together. I help our elected officials understand the ‘how’ behind the ‘what’ and how much it will cost through bonds or debt service. Everyone has to be on the same page about funding.”
“Mayor Bethune ran on a campaign to revitalize the downtown and bring business back to the City. While that sounds simple, it’s a lot more complicated than that. We’re a tourism-based economy and a lot of our focus is to diversify. We might be 75-80 percent tourism and hospitality-based. If we can increase medical, technology, arts, or innovation to 10 percent of the mix, it will have a huge impact on the community in a positive way. With an aging population, we are also trying to attract younger people to the area to raise their families.”
The City adopted the Myrtle Beach Downtown Master Plan in March 2019. The plan identified four unique geographies within downtown Myrtle Beach: Oceanfront, King’s Highway Corridor, Historic Main Street, and Arts District. During the extensive planning process, the City Council identified 12 themes and strategies that apply to the redevelopment process including mobility, downtown living, public safety, transportation, and identity. One of the most exciting concepts from the project was the concept of the City Square / Arts District aimed at reestablishing downtown as the heart of the city. More information, including the entire Downtown Master Plan, can be found here.
Image courtesy of Larry Gibson on Adobe Stock
“It’s making a difference. That’s why you get into this business. You can make a whole lot more money doing other things. It’s not about money. It’s the challenge. It’s the public purpose. It’s about making your community a better place. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true.
While interviewing, I was asked, ‘What do you want your legacy to be?’ For me, it’s straightforward– I want to leave it better than when I found it. There’s always someone who’ll come after you– another city manager, mayor, or police chief– the work is never done. But if each one of us can leave it in a better position than when we arrived, communities will thrive. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that time and time again. It’s an incredible feeling to see the impact of your work first-hand. It’s truly rewarding to pass on your work to someone else, leaving it in the best position you could.”
“It takes a village with top-notch professionals and advisors to guide the way. You can’t do it by yourself. You MUST surround yourself with people smarter than you. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
With an emphasis on collaboration, Simons understands that true progress comes from going the distance together. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Building sustainable growth is a marathon, not a sprint, and relying solely on yourself is never the answer.”
Simons also stresses understanding the limits when it comes to finance. “You can stretch, but it’s essential to be smart about it. Knowing the will of the council and building consensus is key. If we’re going to do it right, we’re going to do it slow. Economic development is a long game. You’ve got to be able to stomach that through the ups and downs – particularly through elections. Doing it alone is not a recipe for success. The recipe for success is bringing the right people together and playing the long game.”
“It’s important because those small things are important projects to that neighborhood and the community where those residents live. That’s who we report to at the end of the day. We work on projects large and small, not just the splashy things that make the newspaper.
Bringing new life to a park that hasn’t had it in years improves the quality of life for those residents. There’s a balance to our work. We might spend more time on big projects like downtown, which has more zeros at the end, but it doesn’t make them more important to the residents. We have a unique market, and we can do big things here in Myrtle Beach, but our responsibility is to serve the entire community; dog parks, community parks, walking trails, and playgrounds are big projects for the residents that live nearby.”