Marc Orlando, new Hilton Head Island town manager, participated in the Feb. 24 Power Hour conference call presented by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. COURTESY HILTON HEAD ISLAND CHAMBER

Marc Orlando became so integral in the smart growth of Bluffton over his 14 years working for the town that many thought he was a “State of Mind” native.

The reality is that crossing the bridge to Hilton Head Island to take over as the town’s new town manager is a homecoming for Orlando, who was hired by long-time town manager Steve Riley in 1997 as an intern serving under natural resource administrator Sally Krebs.

Orlando went on to also serve as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst and a senior planner for the town before heading to Bluffton.

“It’s a bit surreal coming back here, arriving here to work for Sally and being honored to be hired by and work with Steve, but it’s been a smooth move so far,” Orlando said during the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce’s Power Hour conference call on Feb. 24.

It was just his third day on the job, but Orlando had already met with town staff and attended a workshop with Town Council on Feb. 23 focused on the town’s parks and recreation plan and priorities for the upcoming year, including a new mid-island community park.

“We’re getting our arms around what’s next with our next park and the priorities for improving and enhancing the parks and green spaces around the island,” Orlando said.

Riley commented to many in his final days about the turmoil he inherited when he took over in 1994, and Orlando finds himself in much the same position, with the town reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic hardships it has caused to the island tourism industry. He hopes to be the same stabilizing force that Riley proved to be.

“There’s a void in the organization, with Steve and our planning director Charles Cousins retiring and with the untimely passing of Scott Liggett, our beloved chief engineer,” Orlando said. “There’s a lot of heartache among staff and I’m happy to be here to stabilize our talented organization. I’m grateful and excited to get to work and excited to work with the Hilton Head Island community.”

Orlando oversaw unprecedented economic and population growth in Bluffton over his 14 years – the last six as the town’s manager – including major investments at Buckwalter Place, Palmetto Bluff, the Historic District, and the Buckwalter Parkway corridor. He was at the center of planning and implementation of projects such as the Multi-County Commerce Park, the Old Town Master Plan and the Don Ryan Center for Innovation.

He was not part of the town’s initial nationwide search for the town manager, but expressed interest later in the process after the search failed to produce viable candidates.

Orlando comes into the position fully aware of the territorial nature of the Hilton Head-Bluffton resident relationship, with many residents in both communities uninterested in crossing the Wilton Graves Bridge. But he voiced his enthusiasm to the Chamber group in utilizing past relationships working for both towns in his efforts to lead the next chapter in growth on the island.

“I have a lot of thanks for Bluffton, and the amazing people I worked with and the residents and staff that became friends through the years,” said Orlando, who has begun a house search with wife Jackie to move from Bluffton to Hilton Head. “The farewell in Bluffton and reception in Hilton Head has been more overflowing than I expected, but I’m ready to get to work.”

He showed off that willingness on the Power Hour call, as well as his work-in-progress office, complete with plaid Heritage coasters, family pictures and various planning drawings scattered in the backdrop as he sat at an interim desk.

“It’s the third day and I’ve been more concerned with jumping in than decorating – but we have a new desk coming Friday and we’ll get the office in shape,” he said. “This is a thrill of a lifetime and I’m honored to lead this amazing staff.”

Tim Wood is a veteran reporter and editor.