Known throughout five counties in Eastern Montana for her work furthering economic development opportunities, Beth Epley is leaving the Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation after seven years of unprecedented changes and events.
Epley said she has worked as the executive director of the EPEDC since starting in June of 2016, which she noted was an entirely new experience for her at the time.
The EPEDC works on building up and promoting economic development in communities in Dawson, Carter, Fallon, Prairie and Wibaux counties.
“I was brand new to economic development,” Epley noted, adding she previously worked in the oil industry. “I really enjoyed that, but it was time for a change for me.”
However, she determined economic development would allow her to work in an industry more in line with her education and background that was more focused on public administration.
“This job seemed like a really great fit because it involved both working with local governments and working directly with people and that’s what I really enjoyed about public administration; the smaller local change that can happen in governEastern ment that you don’t always get to feel at the higher levels of federal and state government,” Epley said. “This allowed me that opportunity to work directly with my neighbors and to improve our local communities and to encourage and promote economic development in Eastern Montana.”
During Epley’s tenure, she worked through a number of major events that greatly impacted the Eastern Montana region, including the decline of the Bakken oil boom, Covid 19 pandemic and changes in presidential administration, to name a few.
“It’s been a really unique time the last five years in economic development because there has just been so much of a different focus on where we are,” she said.
Between all of the different events over time, specifically the Covid-19 pandemic, one major change to Epley’s position was the amount of time she spent on the road driving to the various locations in the five counties she works with advances in technology.
“I used to drive, on average, three to four times a week and now … we meet on Zoom once a month or once a week,” she said. “We are so much more connected, but in a different way.”
Over her seven years as executive director, Epley learned that a majority of the issues she constantly deals with — workforce, housing, community development and more — all work together economically rather than on its own.
As an example, she referred to the current unemployment rates that are “at record lows” and, although seemingly a good thing, there are still more people retiring from the workforce and not as many people replacing them.
“When I started, I looked at an issue as one singular issue,” Epley said. “Now, having been in it for a number of years, you get to see how it’s more of a piece of a puzzle and how things are interwoven … Being aware of the different sectors is so important in understanding how they interact with each other.”
As she prepares to exit her role as executive director, she hopes a qualified applicant comes up before hand in order that she has an opportunity to train someone for a few weeks before officially leaving.
Epley intends to leave her position by the end of May or in early June, she said.
“Ideally, we would like to hire a new director and then have some time to do some training and on-boarding with them and kind of transition smoothly,” Epley noted.
When asked what her next venture will entail, Epley ultimately did not know, as she plans to move with her family to Billings due to her husband, Joe Epley, accepting a position as the district youth director for the Assembly of God churches in Montana.
“He has been the youth and associate pastor here in Baker for … the last 11 years, so (his new job) is why we are moving,” she said. “What I will do, I am still trying to figure out.”
Although proud of the work she has done for the EPEDC after taking over for her predecessor in 2016, Epley is just as excited to leave the organization for someone else to spearhead and continue working hard to support and benefit the communities in the five-county region it covers.
“I am a big believer that I stand on the shoulders of the previous economic development director who laid the groundwork for me so that I could continue on over these last seven years,” she said. “Going forward, the next people will be able to do the same thing where we just build off of the history and the legacy of others dollars and move it forward … It doesn’t stop.”
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