Marvin Collins III is living like a tourist in the City of Williamsburg.
Seeing the sites makes practical sense for Williamsburg’s new city manager, if only to learn the lay of the land in his new home.
But Collins believes embracing a tourist mindset has other benefits. It helps him understand what visitors to the area experience, and what residents have created.
Collins was announced as Williamsburg’s next city manager in June. He became the seventh city manager in Williamsburg’s history, taking over for Jack Tuttle who held the office from 1991 through this year.
Like Tuttle, he came to the Historic Triangle from Florida, having served as assistant city manager of Fort Myers from 2009 through 2015, along with stops in Burke, Catawba and Orange counties in North Carolina.
While Collins enjoyed his time in Florida, he said he was immediately interested in the Williamsburg city manager position when he saw it posted.
“When I was younger, my dad brought the family to Williamsburg,” Collins said. “Historic preservation and rural preservation were huge for him … and I’ve always been attracted to history.”
Collins submitted an application, one of 55 the City Council reviewed in their hiring process.
Going into his interview, Collins used Tuttle’s long tenure as a way to highlight his own experiences and credentials.
“When I interviewed for this position, I told the City Council, ‘I’m not Jack Tuttle, I can’t be Jack Tuttle,’” Collins said. “‘I’m Marvin Collins, and I’m going to be the best Marvin Collins I can be for you.’”
Collins got the job, and with less than a month in Williamsburg, he is ready to call it his dream job.
Collins said he always knew he wanted to be involved in public service – it is his passion. He studied it at Appalachian State University, where he received a master’s degree in public administration.
“There’s a value to public service that excites me,” Collins said. “That drives me.”
Collins’s philosophy of leadership is based on building relationships. That philosophy is backed by a simple rule: Don’t have a big ego. Instead, Collins said he has spent his first three weeks on the job listening to members of city staff and getting to know them.
“Trust is built through relationships,” Collins said. “You have to start with trust and respect.”
While he is occupied building those relationships, Collins also has his eye toward the future. Collins comes onto the job as the Historic Triangle grapples with changing circumstances. Two of those circumstances are economics and demographics. The once-vibrant tourism economy has been in decline for the better part of two decades, while population growth is changing the face of the community.
“Change is always happening,” Collins said. “We have to choose whether we address it or not.”
Collins said setting the course to a stable future for Williamsburg relies, in part, by maintaining the health of major local institutions, specifically Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary.
The other part, Collins said, is making Williamsburg a place where people want to settle down and live. Doing that requires establishing a sense of place, he said.
“In previous generations, even up through my generation, you found a job and that determined where you would live,” Collins said. “Today, people find where they want to live and then they look for a job.”
Collins said Williamsburg can help its future by setting itself apart from other cities. The best way to do that, he said, may be to emphasize what the city is known for.
“How many other places in the world have a Colonial Williamsburg?” Collins said. “There’s always a demographic that wants that. How many places have a William & Mary, the second-oldest university in the country?”
Starting his fourth week as city manager, Collins said he has not had time to think much about his own future. He expects, however, to be in Williamsburg for a while.
“I want kids to say they enjoyed growing up in Williamsburg,” Collins said. “I want alumni of William & Mary to come back and say there are things I remember, and there are new things that keep me coming back. I want retirees to feel safe and welcome and to enjoy their stay in Williamsburg. That’s a lot to accomplish, but we’re two weeks on that path.”