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New staff hired as LCCDC changes name to Mission West

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RONAN — The past year has brought a slew of new faces to Mission West Community Development Partners. The recruitment of new talent, fueled by passion for community development, is intentional, says Executive Director Jim Thaden. 

“It’s a fact that the populations of the counties we serve are aging. It’s also a fact that young people aren’t coming back after school and we aren’t retaining young people at a rate that will sustain the population,” he notes. “It’s our objective to invigorate, to create an organization in which people have a career path that will lead them into community service.”

Ingredients in attracting a new generation include offering a viable, competitive salary and creating a collaborative work environment that encourages participation.  

“Diversification of funds gives us a larger operating base and the critical mass to be able to attract people to an organization they see as growing,” Thaden adds. 

Among the newcomers:

Brenna Fulks, community development director, joined Mission West in December. Passionate about community and economic development, Fulks has spent much of her career working to revitalize, develop and market community programs in the Pacific Northwest. Most recently, she served as an independent consultant, helping provide capacity and pandemic restructuring support for businesses in Humboldt County, Calif. She was also executive director of the Klamath Falls Downtown Association, while simultaneously earning an MBA with an emphasis in marketing.  

In her new role, she’ll work directly with communities and has already helped complete a housing assessment for Mineral and Sanders counties. She’ll continue to serve as a liaison between local governments and community organizations, with an emphasis on Main Street development.

“We’re excited to have someone with Brenna’s passion, frontline experience in community and economic development and excellent education credentials,” Thaden says. “We’re confident this experience will help us work with communities to identify opportunities, develop strategies and make plans to increase economic sustainability in a way that’s respectful of our Western Montana values.”

Leonard Malin brings many years of experience in for-profit and non-profit financial management to his new position as business development director. With a degree in business and accounting from Montana State University and an MBA from the University of Montana, he began his career as a bank examiner with the State of Montana before becoming a loan officer with Valley Bank of Glasgow. He spent several years working for Wyo-Ben, a Montana-based mining, manufacturing and distribution company, and was eventually promoted to CFO. 

Before coming to Ronan, he served as finance and human resources director for the non-profit Tumbleweed Runaway Program and was CFO for a small business in Madison County. He’s also been involved in non-profit community organizations across Montana and currently serves on the governing board of Leadership Montana. 

“Leonard’s financial skills, extensive experience as a leadership educator and his passion and commitment to community service make him the perfect fit for this important senior management role,” says Thaden.

Kaylee Thornley, the new Cooperative Development Center director at Mission West, helps support emerging and expanding cooperatives in Western Montana while promoting the benefits of the cooperative model in rural communities. 

After earning a degree in Sustainable Community Development from Northland College in Wisconsin, Thornley worked for the Democracy Collaborative in Washington, D.C. and the Center for Rural Communities in northern Wisconsin. 

She spent the past year as a program manager at Mission West, providing help and expertise to more than 30 cooperatives ranging from local and regional organizations to those in neighboring states. Her latest project looks at the feasibility of linking grower cooperatives in Washington, Idaho and western Montana to create an integrated wholesale market and transportation network.

“We’re hoping to build a network of food hubs that can work together while still maintaining their own identity and autonomy but still be a part of a broader collaborative food economy,” she says.

The Ronan Cooperative Brewery is another example of the cooperative model at work. The first cooperative brewery in the state was launched in 2017 by community members who wanted to foster downtown revitalization with a brewery and taproom but didn’t have the resources to build one. The brewery opened in 2020 in the old Masonic Lodge and now boasts more than 325 enthusiastic members who each own a share. 

The center is also looking at ways to expand the cooperative concept to housing, broadband access and workers’ cooperatives. 

“You don’t have to wait for someone to do it – you can just go ahead and do it yourselves,” says Thornley. “It’s a really powerful model.” 

Will Wright is the new Cooperative Development Program Manager. He comes to Mission West from Oregon where he studied community development at Portland State University and coordinated Main Street programs in two rural communities. In his new role, he provides technical assistance to both established and newly evolving cooperatives and helps increase awareness of the opportunities cooperatives provide.

Taylor Lyon serves as program manager for the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, a 13,000-square-foot food processing facility in Ronan. He supports the creation of new or expanding food products and value-added agriculture enterprises. 

Prior to joining Mission West, he spent more than a decade working in and around value-added agriculture and economic development. In the past year, he helped secure a $58,000 grant to upgrade the center’s meat-processing equipment, including the addition of a new smoker, band saw, packaging equipment and expanded refrigeration. 

Also new to the Food Enterprise Center is Anne Harney, local food promotion coordinator. She coordinates local food access programs, including the Farmers to Families Food Box Program and works to develop Farm to School and Farm to Early Care and Education programs through cooperation with Montana Farm to School, agricultural cooperatives and local farmers. 

Mission West also collaborates with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Leadership Flathead Reservation, a two-year program designed to cultivate the next generation of community leaders. “It’s a place where young professionals on their way up can learn how to work together and understand each other and their cultures better,” says Thaden. 

Learn more about Mission West staff and programs at missionwestcdp.org.

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