Jerry Scott receives Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award at chamber dinner

By Sarah Gianelli

EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – On June 25, 160 members and friends of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce gathered in Big Sky Resort’s Missouri Ballroom for the 20th annual Big Sky Chamber Awards and Dinner. The event highlights the work successes of the past fiscal year, looks to the year ahead, and recognizes the community’s top-performing businesses and individuals.

Following chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss’ welcome address, in which she noted that the Big Sky chamber now has more than 450 members, representatives from presenting co-sponsors Karst Stage and CrossHarbor Capital Partners took the podium.

CrossHarbor principal Matt Kidd’s tone took a more serious turn when he said he wanted to address grumblings in the community that Big Sky is experiencing growth that is “accelerated” or “explosive” beyond its capacity to accommodate.

Rattling off real estate and development statistics, he said that if you disregard the $500 million in sales and development the Yellowstone Club has averaged for the last several years, Big Sky growth has remained relatively consistent in recent years and is less significant, on a percentage basis, than it was in the early 2000s.

“Big Sky is growing, yes,” Kidd said. “But in my opinion it is measured, and it is happening with wide levels of community involvement and partnership amongst the largest stakeholders in the area that was never seen in prior periods of Big Sky development, and if this community should remember from the past, continued growth is not assured and it won’t happen without community leaders continuing to work together to make Big Sky the world-class community that it can be.”

To be successful over the long term, Kidd said Big Sky will need to see more growth than has been realized to date, and one necessary piece of this is additional lodging.

Kidd concluded his speech by announcing that construction of the Hotel Wilson, a Marriot Residence Inn, will commence in Town Center in July. The 118,000-square-foot building will have 129 rooms, with approximately 6,000 square feet of ground floor commercial, including a full service restaurant, bar and lounge area.

Outside of the Yellowstone Club, Kidd said the Marriott will be the largest project in Big Sky since the Summit Hotel was built in the late 1990s and the first new hotel since the Lodge at Big Sky opened in 2008. It will be Big Sky’s first branded hotel, and is estimated to generate nearly $1 million in resort tax and lodging tax collections combined each year.

Chamber board of directors chair David O’Connor presented the annual awards. Business Person of the Year went to Dale and Gayle Palmer, owners of Nordic Hot Tub, and long-time philanthropists through their work with Rotary Club of Big Sky.

Business of the Year was awarded to Ace Hardware, still colloquially known as “The Merc,” from its longstanding tenure as Mountain View Mercantile. Although the name and location have changed, owner Kevin Barton, and many of his staff, have remained the same.

Michelle Denning, manager of Lone Perk Espresso, was named Outstanding Front Line Worker of the Year for the consistently sunny service she provides to all who pass through the drive-through coffee shop in the Conoco parking lot.

And finally, Jerry Scott received the Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award, joining the ranks of past recipients Jeff Daniels, Taylor Middleton, Mike Scholz and Marne Hayes.

Scott, founder of Gallatin Partners realty, has held elected positions on the Ophir school board, Big Sky Water and Sewer District, and two separate appointments to the Big Sky Planning and Zoning Advisory Board since moving to Big Sky in 1993. Scott also formed and coached the first fast-pitch softball team in Big Sky, and with help from Middleton cleared the sagebrush behind the elementary school to create a field to play in. Scott and his partner Al Malinowski donated the 20 acres that enabled the construction of Lone Peak High School.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines closed out the night with a speech peppered heavily with nostalgic memories of Big Sky and anecdotes meant to drive home his Montana roots. Daines segued into the economic sphere—and circled back to Kidd’s speech—by referencing Bozeman’s position as the second fastest growing micropolitan area in the country per the U.S. Census Bureau, and gave the crowd a kind but sobering count-your-blessings lecture.

“There are about 55 other counties [in Montana], maybe 54, that would give their eyeteeth to come to a chamber of commerce dinner like this tonight and talk about the fact that we have to be kind of worried about ‘explosive growth’ or ‘growth at all.’ Look at your numbers … by every measure it’s an incredible Montana success story,” Daines said.

“You have to remember … when you’re managing a business you’re either managing up—you have growth issues, strain, hiring people, infrastructure constraints—or you’re managing down, with excess capacity, too many employees, and ‘What are we going to do next?’ And while both are headaches and challenges we are so thankful that in this community, in this county, we have [the challenges of] managing up.”