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Chamber self-funds Leadership Big Sky

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Strategizes with partners for next year

By Bay Stephens EBS LOCAL EDITOR

BIG SKY – In the wake of receiving $32,500 less than requested at the 2019/2020 final resort tax appropriations, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce trimmed its budget for strategic communication, but opted to privately fund the inaugural year of Leadership Big Sky, an orientation class for new members of the business community, at their July 9 board meeting.

The chamber also welcomed two new members to the board during their July 9 meeting: Sarah Gaither of the Big Sky Food Bank and Joel Nickel of Suffolk construction as the board expands from nine to 11 directors.

The $20,000 of funding earmarked to kickstart Leadership Big Sky was excised from the sum that the Big Sky Resort Area District allocated to the chamber. However, using unlooked for net income from the previous fiscal year, the board chose to privately fund the program.

Leadership programs, such as Leadership Bozeman or Leadership Montana, are common across the nation, and often run by local chambers, giving new business members an in-depth orientation to the market they are entering.

Though this first year will be somewhat of a trial run, heavily informing the curriculum going forward, Leadership Big Sky would include information about Big Sky’s peculiar situation as an unincorporated, census designated area straddling two counties that largely relies on resort tax to function. The course would consist of eight days, one per month for eight months, with a graduation trip at the end, and it would be offered to chamber members for free this first year as the organization irons out the kinks.

“The feedback we hear from Bozeman and other teams that have already done this is just incredible, and so I think if we did [it], the word of mouth would help accelerate for next year,” said Shannon Sears, who chairs the committee that is carrying the ball on the program.

The chamber also trimmed their budget for strategic communications through Boise-based communications firm Sovrn, a task coincidentally carried out by former editor of the Lone Peak Lookout David Madison before he recently left Sovrn.

One item of note that was mentioned at the meeting was how many people and organizations locally and across the state don’t realize Big Sky has a chamber of commerce, despite the chamber’s efforts to get the word out.

“How many of the construction companies that we’re hiring to do the work for the Montage or that [the Yellowstone Club is hiring] even know that there is a Big Sky Chamber? I can guarantee you none of my guys do,” said Joel Nickel, Suffolk Construction, the Boston-based company that is currently building the $400 million Montage Big Sky in Spanish Peaks.

Chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss responded that it’s difficult to even track all the different construction companies operating in Big Sky to ask them to be members.

“We sit here and literally, we’ll watch trucks go by and write names down,” Carr Strauss said.

Carr Strauss also mentioned in the chamber meeting that a group of the nine organizations with the largest resort tax funding requests this past year met with Big Sky Resort Area District Secretary Buz Davis, who, “taking off his resort tax hat,” offered to meet as a facilitator with said entities. Representatives from the Big Sky Community Organization, Big Sky Water and Sewer District, and Big Sky Community Housing Trust, among others, met with Davis on May 16.

Together, these organizations totaled over $6 million dollars in allocations requests, and though there were exceptions from normal years that increased the requested funds of several of the organizations, such as the BSCO’s community center, only $8.4 million were available to allocate.

The group has agreed to meet monthly, according to Carr Strauss, and had apparently floated the idea of together putting in one resort tax ask to help the BSRAD board prioritize projects to fund.

The chamber board agreed to table discussion of the next steps for their telecommunications study, which was funded by resort tax dollars, until their next meeting in August.

In other news, the chamber is seeking a new director of membership sales since RJ Klotz left the organization on July 1.

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