By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY –The 24th annual Black Diamond Business Awards Dinner on June 22 was an evening of merriment, reflection and celebration of the Big Sky business community as well as the ability to gather together once more.
Just 15 months prior, the town of Big Sky was thrust into uncertainty as the pandemic closed in on the ski town following the early termination of Big Sky Resort’s winter season on March 15, 2020. Many speakers at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce dinner recounted this day while also driving home the theme for the evening, “Looking at life after COVID,” by reminding the 120 people in attendance how the adversity brought the Big Sky business community even closer together.
“Slowly as we got into summer, we started seeing signs of life despite the national press, this little community started seeing signs of life,” said Scott Johnson, Chamber board chair.
Scott and other speakers discussed the resiliency demonstrated by the various businesses in Big Sky throughout the pandemic as well as the importance of partnerships.
Anna Johnson, director of business development for the Chamber, presented a handful of stats on Chamber membership including growth in dues revenue and growth in new members with 75 members joining in the past year. She also highlighted the four ribbon cuttings the Chamber oversaw this past year which marked the opening of four new businesses in Big Sky.
“For a small town, our significant economic impact and interconnectedness of businesses reaches much further across the region and the state,” Anna said.
Scott spoke to part of the reason Big Sky businesses are successful, even in the face of adversity. “We are here tonight to recognize the power of partnership,” he said, also offering kudos to the Big Sky community for its recovery from the pandemic.
Looking out over the gathering, Scott grinned. “It’s incredible to stand here tonight and see everybody and their faces and their smiles,” he said.
Before passing the mic off to the new Chamber CEO, Brad Niva, Scott concluded by saying, “We have plenty of challenges, let’s not forget them, but we can overcome them.”
Niva opened his speech by saying that while he doesn’t currently have any tattoos, if he were to get some, one forearm would bear the words “be of service” and the other would read “get s*** done.”
Niva’s proclamation was greeted by peals of laughter and became an integral theme for the following speeches.
His message to the community was clear: the Chamber is meant to be the voice of and support system for local businesses. He tipped his hat to the strong organizations in Big Sky as well as the many leaders in the community.
The main event for the evening was the presentation of five different awards to various businesses and individuals in the Big Sky community.
Taking home the hardware for Emerging Entrepreneur was Bill Frye, service account manager with Encore Electric. Daniel Bierschwale, executive director of Big Sky Resort Area District, was honored with the Non-Profit Business Person of the Year award for his work on Big Sky Relief and the community surveillance testing program.
“This award is not about me, this award is about our community initiative,” Bierschwale said.
Kevin Germain, V.P. of Moonlight Basin, was awarded Business Person of the Year and Outlaw Partners, publisher of Explore Big Sky, won Business of the Year.
Finally, well-known locals Kathy and Dave House were awarded the Chet Huntley Lifetime Achievement Award.
All winners offered recognition of the Big Sky community and the relationships and partnerships that hold it together.
The evening was capped by keynote speaker Chantel Schieffer, president and CEO of Leadership Montana, who spoke on the leadership lessons that we can all take with us from the pandemic.
Schieffer presented eight leadership lessons but placed special emphasis on empathy and its role in making a great business leader. She brought the evening full circle by wrapping her powerful speech with Niva’s words “Be of service and get s*** done,” a simple yet effective call to action for all in attendance.
“I thought that was one of the neat things in this community that there are a lot of good leaders here,” Niva said the morning after the dinner.
Niva also gave a shout out to the award winners and highlighted the importance of this yearly Chamber gathering.
“Last night was fun, it was an opportunity to highlight some people that have really stepped up in our community and made a difference and I think all the people that were given awards last night that was perfect, that’s a great way to be recognized by your peers, and as a thank you,” he said.