By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY, HELENA – Meg O’Leary spent the last two decades telling the Big Sky story to the nation and the world. Now she gets to tell Montana’s story.
Governor-Elect Steve Bullock on Nov. 30 appointed O’Leary, Big Sky Resort’s Sales and Marketing Director for the past 12 years, as Director of the Montana Department of Commerce. In that role, which will start Jan. 7, 2013 with the legislative session, O’Leary will be a key player in developing jobs statewide.
“[Bullock] ran on three priorities: job creation, the economy and education. The first two are something I’ll have whole lot of involvement with,” she said. A large agency with broad impact, the Montana Department of Commerce acts as an information broker for businesses and communities in the economic and community development areas.
A Helena native, O’Leary graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in business administration and management. She started at Big Sky in 1989, handling group logistics through the reservations department. In 1991, she moved into group sales, and in 2000 assumed the director role.
“It’s a natural progression for Meg to be asked to head Montana’s important Department of Commerce,” said Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton. “She understands how to listen, how to lead, and how to hold herself and others accountable to big goals.”
If O’Leary brings her drive and enthusiasm to Helena, she’s bound make an impact. In Big Sky, she has also served on the Big Sky Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Big Sky Transportation District, and the Big Sky Lodging Association, and was a key leader in securing new direct flights into the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, including the non-stop flight from New Jersey. She was named the Tourism Person of the Year by the State of Montana in 2012.
“What we’re excited about is that Meg has experience not just in tourism but in growing business,” said Bullock’s deputy chief of staff Kevin O’Brien, calling both O’Leary and Big Sky Resort “Montana success stories.”
“She’ll be able to help business there grow and expand and help attract other businesses to the state – everything from manufacturing to energy development – both traditional and renewable – tourism, to the incredible opportunities we have in high tech fields… I think every city in our state has businesses that have room to grow… Meg will be at the forefront of making that happen.”
O’Leary knows she has a lot to learn in the new role, but said her networks will serve her well. Growing up in Helena, she’s connected to many people in state government – she ran high school cross country with Bullock. Through her work with the resort, particularly the professional conferences, she’s met people from many Montana industries.
“It will be a challenge and really fun, and I’m going to be able to bring a lot of value because of that network.”
Tourism, her area of expertise, will also inform her new role.
“Bullock really wants to do this tourism thing right,” O’Leary said. “He respects the industry and he gets it. He believes there’s going to be some good interaction between the No. 1 industry of [agriculture] and No. 2, tourism. These two top industries – what can we do to collaborate further?”
In O’Leary’s mind, this spells sustainable jobs.
“I am looking forward to taking what I know about telling the Big Sky story and applying it across the state, bringing in the right kind of jobs for the right kind of areas so we have sustainability.”
But it’s a change for a woman who’s skied on lunch break for 23 years – one O’Leary and her husband Blaire Heinke didn’t take lightly.
“I’m going to Helena, and I’m all in for four years – for my professional life. I will still be skiing and riding bikes [in Big Sky] and drinking coffee at the bakery… It’s taken us a lot of really careful soul searching.”
Other members of Bullock’s cabinet include Mike Batista as the Director of the Department of Corrections, Pam Bucy as the Director of the Department of Labor, Tim Burton as Chief of Staff, Dan Villa as Budget Director, and Ali Bovingdon and Kevin O’Brien as Deputy Chiefs of Staff.
Said Bullock of these appointments: “I’m excited to hit the ground running with some of the best and brightest our state has to offer and I look forward to working with them to put Montanans first.”
The Department of Commerce helps maintain and improve community infrastructure in Montana; finances homeownership and rental assistance; provides technical assistance and training for entrepreneurs, businesses, communities and development groups; promotes Montana as a place to visit, locate business, and film motion pictures; and finances businesses that generate financial and economic return for the state.
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Chief Deputy Attorney General: Mark Mattioli
Solicitor General: Lawrence VanDyke
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