479034_4516769119124_1779428195_oBy Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Editor

BIG SKY – The executive director for the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce is stepping down.

Kitty Clemens, who has served as the organization’s leader since August 2012, announced to the chamber board on Aug. 9 that she accepted a position as executive director of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.

Clemens moved to Big Sky from Colorado Springs four years ago, and says the area and its residents will always have a place in her heart.

“When they called Montana ‘The Last Best Place,’ there’s a lot of reasons why that’s true,” said Clemens, whose last day on the job will be Sept. 2. “In Big Sky the people are really great people. It’s going to be hard to leave them behind and I hope to continue those relationships.”

The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce boasts more than 400 businesses as members, and has made significant progress under Clemens’ leadership, according to David O’Connor, chair of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

O’Connor pointed to an increased chamber staff size, greater involvement in large community issues, and an ability to relate to businesses as they were emerging from the economic downturn.

“Because of the infrastructure Kitty worked so hard to create it will be hard to fill her shoes,” O’Connor said, “but I think the chamber is in a better place than we ever have been to seek the type of leadership we really need.”

While a replacement hasn’t yet been named, the board is discussing how to move forward with the job posting, O’Connor said.

In her tenure, Clemens has tackled issues foreign to many larger chambers of commerce, which spend much of their time lobbying city councils and state legislatures. One major issue she brought to the forefront of the community’s collective attention was that of affordable housing.

She organized a slew of “idea exchange meetings” beginning in winter 2013 to bring awareness to a housing shortage that remains among the top issues in Big Sky today.

“I think Kitty really started to open the door on the statewide and national scale and really moved the ball forward on attainable workforce housing,” O’Connor said. “She was a collaborator and had a unique ability to bring people together and to convert talk into action.”

The role of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce has changed and grown with this quickly evolving area, flush with new development and businesses on a regular basis.

“The chamber is a totally different animal than when I got here,” Clemens said, pointing to now separate and clearly defined roles of the chamber and its visitors’ bureau, Visit Big Sky, as well as a successful annual chamber dinner that’s grown from 40 attendees to nearly 300 in four years. This year, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock gave the keynote address.

For Clemens, she says she’s excited to return to Colorado Springs where she focused on economic development, destination marketing and community affairs before moving to Montana. But, she says, she’ll miss more than just the big sky.

“We now have a group of full-time folks that are highly skilled, educated and motivated,” Clemens said of the chamber staff. “One of the hardest things about leaving is not coming to work everyday and seeing the team that I work with.”