By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Flying into Rogue Valley International Airport, there is a good chance that you will be greeted by an almost 10-foot-tall mural of Brad Niva welcoming small businesses to the area. While Niva is primarily a businessman and was most recently hired as the CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky following his post as the executive director of Travel Southern Oregon, his prowess was born from his recognition as a top business leader in southern Oregon.
From pharmaceuticals in corporate America to a rafting company in southern Oregon, Niva has a wide range of experience in both the business world and the tourism and outdoors industry. He has won a number of awards including the Oregon Governor’s Tourism Award, the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Commission Top Business Leader and the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Scholar Award. Now, Niva will be using that expertise to guide Big Sky through its next chapter of development.
“Our new CEO Brad Niva brings a wealth of Mountain/Outdoor business and tourism experience to Big Sky,” wrotethe Chamber board’s Scott Johnson in an email to EBS. Johnson was also chair of the hiring committee. “It was evident from our first conversations that he has the skill set and passion to represent our Big Sky Business Community.”
As the new CEO of both the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky, he will certainly need to be prepared to fill the dynamic role. Niva will have two different boards of directors to answer to and two different sets of goals to pursue. Luckily, he is well versed in both aspects of his new position.
“The focus of my career for many years has been in the outdoor recreation field as well as the tourism economy,” Niva said in a May 24 interview.
In addition to his corporate experience, business acumen and knowledge of tourism economies, Niva also worked in the ski industry for 20 years and is excited to live in a ski town again.
Niva met his wife, Babs, on the ski slopes of Mount Bachelor, Oregon, in the early ‘90s and they both love the sport. Niva described how he initially researched Big Sky after hearing of the position and was excited to discover the size of Big Sky Resort.
He said his 12-year-old son, Riley, and 15-year-old daughter, Piper, are a tad hesitant about the move but feels like he and Babs are able to give their kids the gift of growing up in a ski town.
“We see Big Sky as a neat opportunity for us as a family to get back to basics,” Niva said.
He originally visited Big Sky for the first time early on in the interview process and said he was able to meet some great community members who impressed him with their passion for the community.
“I found myself wanting to be a part of it,” he said.
Niva noted some of the unique challenges that Big Sky faces, specifically referring to the growing pains that come with being discovered and the community’s lack of central government. Despite those challenges, Niva said he is a huge fan of the new BASE community center and pointed out that Big Sky Community Organization has done some great work with the parks and recreation opportunities here.
“I see these different pieces of this system and it naturally just makes me go ‘I want to be a part of this, this is so neat to see a community buy in,’” he said.
Niva has worked for 20 years in the tourism industry and owned multiple businesses, including Rogue Wilderness Adventures, a rafting company he purchased and grew almost 300 percent in 10 years.
He feels that his diverse background makes him well-suited to handle the business and tourism aspects of his new role with the Chamber and Visit Big Sky.
“I come with a good set of tools that I can offer to businesses and the community,” Niva said. “I also come with this mentality of being of service.”
Johnson concurred, writing, “His proven leadership will be an asset to our community now and into the future.”
Niva’s goals for the Chamber and VBS are numerous and ambitious.
On the Chamber side of things, he expressed a desire to support the business community in Big Sky and said he is approaching that part of the role as a business owner. He offered ideas like monthly small business gatherings, coming up with solutions to solve staffing problems and making Big Sky a more viable destination year-round to ensure more constant revenue streams.
“I understand the challenges of a tourism economy and what it does to a business,” Niva said. “You have a huge influx of cash flow and revenue; you make hay when you can make it and then you ride it out the rest of
On the VBS and tourism side of the coin, Niva said his goal is to make sure that Big Sky is competitive in the marketplace and is drawing visitors to support Resort Tax. In November of 2020, the VBS board hired Karsh Hagan, a marketing agency that will help to market Big Sky as a year-round destination to tourists.
Niva said he wants to continue that effort to mitigate the seasonal nature of Big Sky. He offered suggestions like a winter carnival or bringing in national races in the spring and fall as ways to accomplish that goal.
“That’s not an easy fix, that’s going to be a 10-to-15-year project to round out our tourism economy but it’s something that can be done by introducing new products and new events to our area,” he said.
In order to keep up with the increased visitation, Niva also emphasized the importance of laying down infrastructure and improving on or expanding what already exists in Big Sky.
Niva officially started his new role on June 1, and he said he is excited to get to work and move forward.
“I look at what my resume has to offer, and I really feel like this is a great opportunity to make a good fit with Big Sky and it sounds like Big Sky needs someone like me as well to walk you through the next chapter of what this community has to offer,” Niva said.