Grimm Days at the City of Sandpoint [Are Over]

By Cameron Rasmusson

It’s been a rough week for Jeremy Grimm.

No surprise there—it’s not easy stepping away from a job in which you’ve invested years of sweat and tears. In just over a week, he’ll be just another spectator of Sandpoint’s growth when he leaves his office to become Kochava’s director of publisher development. As a part of the Kochava team, he’ll help the growing software development company continue its rise as a mobile advertising analytics leader. And while he’s excited for the future, it only takes a mention of Sandpoint’s future to get him emotional.

When it comes to local influence, there are few who’ve exerted a greater force than Grimm. Since he first took his job in the spring of 2007, he’s guided policy-crafting that affects the way residents and businesses work, live and play.

“Jeremy used his unique set of skills to encourage and facilitate businesses to locate here, expand here and take a second look at Sandpoint as a place they want to do business,” said Mayor Carrie Logan. “Kochava’s gain is our loss.”

Before entering grad school to study city planning, Grimm started his career as a small business owner. He managed a fly fishing lodge in Alaska, eventually moving on to start a bread company and bistro in Maine. After a stint in Wyoming, Grimm took his job in Sandpoint to enjoy the local recreation and natural beauty. If he was looking for rest and relaxation, however, he didn’t find it. The next couple years would see the town chart out its future and weather the Great Recession.

Perhaps the most important of Grimm’s projects with the city was his first: the Sandpoint Comprehensive Plan. A document built upon contributions from thousands of residents and untold hours of work, the comp plan lays out a 20-year vision for city development. According to Grimm, it’s city officials’ most important resource when making decisions.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Grimm also had a hand in shaping local land management, the SPOT public transportation system, affordable housing and the city’s Geographic Information System, which links public information and records with mapping software.

Given his impact on city development, Grimm was at times a controversial figure, particularly when city and citizen agendas collided. Efforts like the comp plan and Sandpoint’s massive re-zoning project inevitably generated differing opinions. Other residents found the city’s planning policies unfriendly to business practices.

Take the Bonner Business Center, for example. Last year, the parent company for local biomedical device manufacturer Lead-Lok threatened to move the company from Sandpoint if the city couldn’t accommodate its expansion plans. Grimm ultimately decided to give Lead-Lok full access to the Bonner Business Center, previously a small business incubator. The decision preserved dozens of local jobs, but it also evicted the other businesses that shared the facility.

It’s just one moment in seven years of decisions, and Grimm has collected his share of difficult and rewarding memories alike. He leaves behind a city hall grateful for his work through good times and bad.

I sat down with Grimm to talk about his work with the city and some of the rougher patches of the job. He shared a few of his thoughts in the interview to the right, edited for length.

SPR: You’ve spent more than seven years with the city. What influenced your decision to move back into the private sector?
JG: It was a significant decision. Government jobs are relatively thankless, and you take a lot of abuse from the public. People don’t always realize what you’re doing and how hard people work. But at the same time, there’s a lot of security [and great benefits] … There was a lot of agitation as I considered quality of life for my family. But for me, Kochava is the opportunity of a lifetime. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t see it as that.

SPR: What is it about Kochava that persuaded you to make the change?
JG: It’s fascinating to see the private sector do what it does and how quickly it can move. The pace is break-neck [at Kochava]. Very exciting things they’re working on there, pushing the technological limits and creating a product the world has never seen before. … In my mind, this is like going to work for Henry Ford. It’s an industry leader in an industry that is revolutionizing the world.

SPR: Thinking back on your time with the city, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced while working with public officials?
JG: One of the most challenging things is when elected officials won’t engage you. Maybe they have an agenda and they aren’t interested in a dialogue or a discussion or educating themselves. One of the most frustrating things is seeing an elected official make a decision and not explain him or herself. How do you deal with that? … I think [an explanation] is something they owe the public.

SPR: How do you respond to criticisms that Sandpoint policy can be unfriendly to business, sometimes even pushing them out to Ponderay?
JG: I guess my response could be one of two things. One could be frustration, because it simply isn’t true. If you look at the data of businesses that move from Ponderay to Sandpoint, if you look at the comparable fees … it’s not an accurate perspective.
But I think the way I’ve chosen to respond is that Ponderay and Sandpoint have a relationship, and I don’t want to pit us against each other. … I think the best way to respond is to point out the businesses that say, ‘Way to go. You are an amazing city.’ … My philosophy was to show that we are friendly to business, and over the last five years, I’ve went out of my way to address the concerns of the business community. And coming from the private sector, I understand regulation. No one wants to sit all day figuring out what they can and can’t do – they want to make their widget or their product.

SPR: What is your greatest hope for Sandpoint as it moves forward?
JG: I hope we can get over this defeatist attitude that we’re nothing but a tourist town. With the success of [so many businesses and industries], I think it’s clear we can be more than burger-flippers and bed-makers. … I just hope the community believes in itself and recognizes that we’re not just about selling second homes. We’re not just about catering to tourists. And don’t get me wrong, tourism industries are good industries. I’ve always said they’re the third leg of the stool.
My second greatest hope is that we’ve learned the lessons from Colorado and some parts of Montana. What brings almost all of us to this place is its scenic beauty and the environment. Whether you’re blue or red, Tea Party member or joint smoker, we all love this place because of the environment. The key to maintaining that … is absorbing that city growth.

SPR: One last thing, and this is probably the most important question: Every time I go into Kochava, I notice what a beard-heavy work culture it is. It’s nothing but beards, beards, beards. Are you going to adapt or maintain your individual style?
JG: (laughs) No, I’m going to stay beardless. I don’t know what my style will be exactly, but it’ll be beardless.

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