Brad Niva in his fourth week as Chamber CEO
Brad Niva moved to Big Sky at such a time that he gets to experience the Big Sky we all knew before the pandemic ever happened. Or at least, a Big Sky relatively removed from some of the more obvious pandemic details.
It stood out to him at the recent Black Diamond Business Awards Dinner, hosted by the Big Sky Chamber. As the new CEO for the Chamber and Visit Big Sky, this was really Niva’s first time meeting a lot of the business community. He noted the overwhelming sense of gratitude people had for just being around each other, being able to hug, not wearing masks. The vibe of this year’s awards was more focused on recognizing people in the community who stepped up during Covid and showing appreciation and respect for those businesses that made it through, who survived.
Niva joked that he can barely find the way to his house after about three weeks into his job. He likely would have had a hard time beginning a role in guiding and advocating for local businesses in the middle of a pandemic.
“I set pretty high standards for myself to understand the challenges and issues of the community,” Niva said.
One of the not surprising issues he is taking in stride is Big Sky’s housing situation. In fact, he planned to meet with five different restaurants this week to just talk about what challenges they have been facing and what the Chamber could do better to assist them. The Big Sky workforce needs bodies, he said.
Bodies that, in some cases, do have beds ready for them. Niva mentioned the Yellowstone Club and Lone Mountain Ranch have beds available for summer employees, but just no employees applying for the jobs. Big Sky has a housing problem and typically that is paired with a lack of workforce, but the perspective from these examples shows it a bit differently.
“If I knew where the workers went, I could be the best guy in the world,” Niva remarked. Alas, he, like everyone else, has a few more questions about this issue than answers.
Niva has a background as a small business owner. In Oregon, where he recently moved from, he owned three recreation-based tourism companies. After selling these, he ended up as the Regional Director of Tourism for southern Oregon over the past five years. Niva met his wife, Babs, in Bend, Ore., and the two loved living in a ski town.
“We’re never really going to get the opportunity to do something like this again,” he remembered thinking.
Babs is a surgical nurse and Niva thinks she will end up working at Bozeman Deaconess and their two teenage kids will start school at Lone Peak High School in the fall. “We’re going to make Big Sky our home,” Niva said.
He described the first week in his new role consisting of getting to know his staff. The second, meeting those on the Big Sky Resort Area District Board. Third, delving into the budget, and finally, now in the fourth week, he is getting into the stuff he loves—shaking hands and meeting people.
“I know what it’s like to be a business owner,” Niva said. Part of his passion is working with businesses and making sure they are getting what they need to be successful, and this fourth week is just the beginning of working towards that goal.
Places undergoing new leadership have an opportunity for self-assessment, looking at what they have accomplished and where they see themselves. Niva is ready to dig into questions like what the Chamber needs, what the community needs and how the Chamber fits into those needs and start coming up with some answers.
“It’s the fun of being new and trying to put all the pieces together and making sure that I’m trying to cover everything that I’m supposed to be covering,” he said.
At the Black Diamond Awards, Niva ended up coining a term that encapsulates his Big Sky mission. He explained that if he was to have tattoos on his forearms, one arm would read ‘be a service.’ The other, ‘get &hit done,’ or GSD for a community newspaper audience.
Niva is ready to be a part of the Big Sky community, GSD, and expressed his adoration for how welcomed he has felt so far.
“That’s a real compliment to this community,” he said—its ability to welcome visitors and new residents with warmth.