Patrick County’s new administrator hopes to make the locality a magnet for investment.
Starting Thursday, Beth Simms will delve into her new role with what she describes as a wealth of economic development knowledge.
For Simms, 36, her new job in the county almost brings her full circle.
“I grew up on the south side of Franklin County, which is close to Henry and Patrick County, I’ve been around Patrick County for most of my life,” Simms said, adding that she is familiar with the region, despite spending much of her professional life away. She also added that she plans to move to Patrick County within the year.
Simms comes to Patrick by way of neighboring Franklin County, where she most recently served as director of economic development. Prior to this, Simms worked in a number of disparate fields. She marked the start of her career in the hospitality industry as an Applebee’s manager. She transitioned to public education, as a Henry County schoolteacher.
“Much of the county’s tax money goes to schools,” Simms said. “Schools are the foundation of our society, really.”
Trying her hand at entrepreneurship, Simms was the owner of a gym in Eden, North Carolina. She said that experience got her involved in community development. This position segued into a position as cultural and economic development director for the town of Rocky Mount.
“It was kind of a mix between tourism and economic development, and also community development,” Simms said. She held that job for 14 months, she said, before transitioning into her Franklin County role, where she spearheaded projects including the Franklin County Business Retention and Expansion Program.
“I regularly met with about 15 of our largest employers,” Simms said about the program. “Seeing, in a local government role, how we can be in assistance to them and retaining them in Franklin County.”
Simms mentioned other initiatives like the creation of a strategic plan for Franklin County’s Office of Economic Development and the recent launch of a new website.
Simms’ new employers hope she will have a similar impact on Patrick County.
“I’m big on structures, management and leadership and I think she brings all that to the table,” said Supervisor Doug Perry.
Supervisor Denise Stirewalt agreed.
“I think she is going to be great for Patrick County,” Stirewalt said. “She knows the local government, she knows Patrick County. … She is well-rounded and knowledgeable.”
Simms will be paid an annual salary of $120,000.
Simms said she believes that the breadth of her experience — particularly her work as an economic developer — will translate well into her new position. She said that she believes that communities like Patrick County, population 17,600, could benefit from an emphasis on economic development.
“Economic development directors in any locality are really good candidates for good county or city management,” Simms said. “In economic development, we say it takes a village, so we work across department lines.”
Simms said collaborations were often part of her work in Franklin County, where she worked with community colleges, workforce groups, planning district commissions and state agencies, among others.
In Patrick County, Simms said she believes the major problem is a lack of investment and too many disinvestments, particularly when compared to larger metropolitan areas.
An example of disinvestment is the closure and pending reopening of the county’s hospital. Formerly known as the Pioneer Community Hospital, the building is undergoing renovations with a plan to reopen as Foresight Hospital of Patrick County and continue its hospital services.
The project, however, has missed several key deadlines. Most recently, Stuart town officials, citing a lack of transparency, denied a rezoning request by hospital officials.
Simms didn’t comment on the ongoing project specifically, but she said she sees the hospital as a significant part of her 10-year vision for the county.
“I don’t see why it can’t be like one of those cool mountain towns,” Simms said, alluding to North Carolina communities like Boone. “I see Patrick County being a cool destination, in Virginia.”
Simms also said that investments aren’t necessarily economic in nature.
“Working in Franklin and then going to Patrick, we don’t have the infrastructure that cities have,” she said. “That means your water, sewer, broadband, cell service, it can hold municipalities back. I know I’ll be looking into that.”
Ultimately, Simms said, she wants to have an impact on Patrick County, and she believes local government is the best way to do that.
“It’s for future generations,” Simms said. “You want to make the community better, you want to leave it a little bit better than you found it.”