The Powell Economic Partnership Board of Directors didn’t have to look far to find a replacement for outgoing executive director Christine Bekes. The board announced Tuesday that Rebekah Burns, …
The Powell Economic Partnership Board of Directors didn’t have to look far to find a replacement for outgoing executive director Christine Bekes. The board announced Tuesday that Rebekah Burns, PEP’s community relations director and communications and tourism director, will take over as the economic development group’s leader.
Burns “interviewed very strongly, and she has an incredible background,” said Board Chair Kelly Spiering.
Burns has been with PEP since June 2017, serving first as the visitor center coordinator and more recently as the communications and tourism director. She was also part of the team that helped PEP merge with the Powell Chamber and Visitor Center.
“We are fortunate to be able to look at our existing staff and have an excellent person to move up into a leadership role,” Spiering said in a statement.
At a Tuesday PEP meeting, Spiering said the board considered a number of options, including a search outside Powell, before deciding they wanted someone familiar with PEP and the community.
He that explained that when PEP formed in 2011 and began searching for an executive director, they conducted a nationwide search. And the results were disappointing.
“We never found anyone who had a passion for Powell or an understanding of what Powell could do for them and their career,” Spiering said.
Bekes, a 1990 Powell High School graduate, was hired in 2014, and she’s been “fabulous” as executive director, Spiering said. Bekes had the passion for the community they were seeking, and she’s done a lot to connect the business community with resources and people on the state level.
“PEP has done so much,” Bekes told PEP’s advisory board on Tuesday. “But it’s not been just us. It’s really been because of you.”
After six years in the post, Bekes announced this month that she was leaving the position in order to relocate her family to Reno, Nevada.
Spiering said Bekes has laid a lot of groundwork for Burns as she takes over. Bekes said the organization was in good hands under Burns’ leadership and wished her colleague well in the transition.
“You’re going to be a rock star,” Bekes told Burns. “I’m super excited for you.”
Burns grew up in Bel Air, Maryland. Her grandparents on her father’s side homesteaded in the Bull Mountains of Montana. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were from Sidney, Montana, and her mother grew up in Billings.
“Although I didn’t grow up in Powell or the West, I definitely have a heart for the West,” she said.
Burns has a degree in film production and worked as a production manager for a company called Crews Control, which provides camera crews for video shoots. She managed 1,500 clients and built relationships with them through video conferencing, trade shows and phone calls.
“So I’m able to build strong relationships quickly,” she explained.
Burns had a diverse set of clients, including Fortune 500 companies, government entities and non-profits in a wide variety of industries.
“It gave me a down and dirty look at a ton of different industries,” she said. “The way that translates to economic development in a rural, small place is that I have working knowledge almost immediately of a ton of different industries.”
Burns said relationship building is a primary goal of economic development.
“It’s relationships with economic development organizations in the [Big Horn] Basin. It’s relationships with our elected officials. It’s relationships with our businesses,” she said. “And that will absolutely remain the same.”
Burns assured members that PEP would continue to: be an advocate for local businesses; provide education sessions with relevant discussions and topics — such as the recent panel discussion on Wyoming’s financial challenges; and work to keep growing the agricultural and visitor economy. She encouraged business owners to communicate their needs, including concerns for or against proposed legislation.
“PEP is still your go-to institution,” she said. “We do really want to hear from you. We want to be relevant to you.”
As part of the transition, PEP is actively seeking applicants for a new position of community relations and tourism manager. The application period will close on March 11.
“We have amazing momentum in 2020,” Burns said in a statement, “and I look forward to continuing to build upon our strong partnerships with the city, county and stakeholders throughout the state.”