Ryan Thomas is a self-described small government nerd — he reads all he can about small government, and on his drive to work he listens to podcasts highlighting the inner-workings of governments throughout the country.
His enthusiasm is hard to hide when he talks about his work as Greenwood’s assistant city manager. At 33 years old, the job is a dream come true for him.
“I didn’t think I would get a job like this at this point in my career,” he said. “I’m very glad to be here.”
Thomas was hired in February, and since then has been taking in the scope of his responsibilities. Now, alongside City Manager Julie Wilkie and Mayor Brandon Smith, he’s preparing to tackle preparations for the S.C. Festival of Discovery and Blues Cruise.
But before he became a part of the new wave of young leaders in Greenwood, he was an Indianapolis-born Indiana University student studying marketing without much of an interest in being a part of government’s inner-workings. After school, he worked in the mortgage industry for four years — a job he said didn’t suit his personality.
“I think a lot of us, we have jobs and we figure out what doesn’t work before we figure out what does work,” he said.
After college, he needed a shake-up and moved to Greenville, following his sister, who had moved there a few years earlier. In visiting her, his family had learned they liked the Southeast, so he and his wife, Amy, made the move.
He landed a job building off his previous work, serving as community development coordinator for Greenville County’s human relations division.
“I had all this knowledge about credit and housing,” he said. “I was taking all this knowledge about the mortgage industry, and now I got to be a teacher of that knowledge.”
Through the job he worked closely with city and county officials and got his first insight into how government ran — and he liked what he saw.
“It really gave me a good understanding of how local governments are linked at that level, and it kind of sparked my interest in that side of government,” he said.
When a coworker suggested Clemson University’s Master of Public Administration program, everything changed for him.
“It blew the doors wide open,” he said. “I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
While studying, he took a job in government procurement, but was still looking for somewhere he’d feel more at home. He saw the job posting for Greenwood’s assistant city manager the day before the offer ended.
“When I interviewed him I felt like he just got it,” Wilkie said. “He’s really jumped in with both feet.”
She said his experience in procurement and grant writing and handling was exactly what the city needed, and that he had the right attitude and personality for the job. His skill set complements hers, she said. His enthusiasm leaves him bringing research and information on how other cities are handling issues similar to Greenwood’s.
Wilkie, who earlier served as assistant city manager under former City Manager Charlie Barrineau, was doing an impressive job filling in for Barrineau before Thomas was hired, but Smith said she was burning the candle on both ends.
“She was basically doing the city manager job and the assistant city manager job, and I don’t know of any human being who could do that,” he said. “Ryan couldn’t have been hired soon enough.”
Thomas is quick to answer questions about policy and gather research city officials need, and, when he doesn’t know an answer, he finds one. Smith said Thomas’ enthusiasm is a great addition to this wave of youthful leaders trying to bring fresh ideas into the city.
For Thomas, he said he was ready to take on a broader spectrum of responsibilities. It keeps the job interesting, and, nowadays, he’s excited to come to work each morning.
“I knew that I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as the housing guy,” he said. “I wanted to wear more hats than that.”
Thomas said he’s excited seeing the legacy of progress in Greenwood, from the expansion of Uptown and Maxwell Avenue to the new businesses coming in. And while officials work to tackle the challenges Greenwood faces, he said he’s thrilled to be a part of finding solutions and to have a hand in transforming the city.
“We’re going to be able to see the change,” he said. “I think it’s an awesome time to be in Greenwood.”