By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY – After several months with very slim staffing and an extensive candidate search, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce has hired a new executive director.

Kitty Clemens comes from Colorado Springs, Colo., where she has worked up and down the Front Range in economic development, destination marketing, community relations, public affairs, advertising and the arts.

For Clemens, the position is “an opportunity to do what I’m really passionate about—destination marketing and business development for small communities.”
The tourism industry brings value to economies and communities, she said.

Clemens has worked in tourism development in several small Colorado towns, and most recently focused on a downtown revitalization project for Manitou Springs, an art, recreation and tourism community at the base of Pikes Peak.

There, as the town was installing new streetlights, Clemens led a creative effort to hang banners with artwork from the local school children. Working with the school superintendent, the art teachers, parents, a local sign maker, Clemens’ side project saved the town money and raised funds for the local education foundation.

“It was a win-win for everyone,” she said. “It really did involve the whole community.”

Clemens started working on the revitalization project in Manitou in 2002 and followed it from the preliminary planning stages, all the way through the first half of the final phase eight years later. Not only was that fulfilling, she said it also gave her a much broader perspective of “what it really takes to provide for your residents and also for the visitors that actually pay the bills at the end of the day.”

“It’s being able to look at things from a 30,000-foot view. What you’re asking people to come experience can be just as important as the marketing numbers or the website hits.”

She also knows that in small communities, “you have to be the chief cook and the bottle washer.” As an economic development officer, she doubled as a public information officer.

Clemens also has also written a crisis communication plan for a multi county travel attraction association, done SWOT analysis, and written grants for state and federal funding.

Although retired from skiing, she says she loves hiking, biking, snowshoeing and gardening.

“The mountains are for me. And definitely cooler weather is for me.”

She starts Aug. 1, but is still looking for a place to live, which, she notes, can be tough with a dog. Her dog, an Airedale, is named Albert.

The Chamber of Commerce, which also has several new board members as of this year, went through a restructure this spring while looking to fill the executive director position.

For years the Chamber operated with only two paid staff, an ED and a membership director. It’s added three other new positions this spring: bookkeeper Wanda McCarthy, marketing specialist Wendy Swenson, and operations support Jessica Martin-Trulen.

The new positions are funded by a combination of Big Sky Resort Tax dollars, membership dues, and grants from Yellowstone Country (which functions as part of the Montana Office of Tourism).