After resignation, MEP chairman says board will discuss search for new president

The Missoula Economic Partnership’s board of directors will meet this week to consider the organization’s future and where to begin the search for a new president, its board chairman said Monday.

On Friday, MEP president and CEO James Grunke announced his intention to leave the post at the end of January to pursue other opportunities. His departure came as a surprise to the business community and raised questions about where the organization would place its focus moving forward.

“We’re going to meet this week and we’re going to try and set up an action plan toward what’s the next step,” said MEP board chairman Scott Burke. “The person we’re looking at today might be a little different than when we were starting this organization.”

Grunke was named CEO and president of MEP in April 2012, roughly six months after he began in an interim role. At the time, he replaced Jim Bowman, the organization’s first president, who abruptly resigned over philosophical differences regarding economic development.

Burke said the organization netted Grunke through a national search nearly six years ago.

“I don’t know what the board will decide upon, if it’s a national-level search or more regional, or more local,” Burke said. “I would think by next week, if we can all agree, that we’d have some idea on where we’ll go and be able to share that.”

While Grunke hasn’t returned calls seeking comment, Missoula Mayor John Engen offered similar sentiments on Friday, saying the organization is in a much different place than when Grunke took the helm.

Engen said Grunke’s departure could afford the board an opportunity to reexamine the organization’s structure and how it pursues economic development.

“Missoula is in a much different place than we were in 2010, so we’ll look at our goals and opportunities a little differently and try to decide organizationally how we want to move forward,” Engen said.

Burke lauded Grunke’s leadership over the past few years, saying he leaves the organization on solid footing. Among the successes, Burke counted the relationships that have formed and getting the region’s various groups to work together on an economic development package.

“That was a huge hurdle back in the day,” said Burke. “Through that, we’ve seen some great opportunities come our way in terms of new companies, and companies expanding their employment base. We just need to continue to focus on what we’ve done and what (Grunke) has done for us.

“I expect to have a clearer picture once we decide which path we’re going down.”