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Tara Rice, Director

Tara Rice Director of the Montana Department of Commerce

Tara Rice was appointed as Director of the Department of Commerce by Governor Bullock in March 2019, and was confirmed by the state Senate in April.

Tara comes to this position from a public and private sector background in economic development. Tara previously served in the Rural Development area of the US Department of Agriculture, helping to manage USDA’s investments in rural infrastructure, housing and business development. Tara went on to lead the work of the White House Rural Council, driving efforts for rural investment across federal agencies and with state and local partners. Most recently Tara was in private legal practice as a transactional attorney, working with teams of bankers, developers and engineers to build infrastructure and energy projects around the world. 

Tara was raised on a ranch north of Choteau, Montana. Growing up, Tara was active in Teton County 4-H and Choteau FFA. She is a graduate of Choteau High School, Seattle University and Yale Law School. 



Adam J. Schafer, Deputy Director

Adam SchaferAdam J. Schafer joined Montana Department of Commerce as Deputy Director in September, 2020.   Prior to that he served in the Governor’s Office as a Deputy Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor and Director of Public Engagement.  Previously he served as Montana’s Deputy Commissioner of Securities and Insurance and Chief of Staff for the Commissioner.  Schafer served as executive director for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Washington, D.C. for 11 years, before returning to Montana in 2012.  He was born in Great Falls and grew up in Billings.  He received his degree from North Central College in Naperville, IL, and lives in Helena with his wife Anjenette and son Leo.




Emilie Ritter Saunders, Director of Communications & Public Affairs

Emilie Ritter Saunders

Emilie Ritter Saunders joined the Montana Department of Commerce in early 2017. Emilie is an award-winning multimedia storyteller and communications strategist whose career began in journalism. Prior to joining Commerce, Emilie spent nearly two years as the Communications Director at the Montana Office of Public Instruction under Superintendent Denise Juneau. In 2016, Emilie earned a Montana Governor's Award for Excellence for her contributions to growing the Graduation Matters Montana initiative's communications strategy. 

Emilie spent a decade as a public radio journalist in Montana and Idaho. Her work has been heard on the BBC, CBC, Reuters, National Native News, and NPR. Emilie is a Montanan and graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism. 


Jennifer Olson, Administrator, Community Development Division

Jennifer Olson

Jennifer Olson is the Administrator of the Community Development Division. Born in Duluth, Minn., she was raised in the Air Force and has had the fortunate opportunity to call Montana home for the past 30 years. She graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Montana State University and is a certified National Development Council Housing Development Finance Professional.  

Her work began by serving communities and impoverished families with non-profit and public service. She has continued to engage and serve families and communities through her 16-year involvement and oversight of federal and state programs. Jennifer is driven by the successful collaboration with communities and the unique opportunity to live in this great state while assisting all Montana communities with their goals. Jennifer sees the Community Development Division as a valued partner for every community to help achieve successes for Montana communities, providing assistance through activities related to planning, economic development, infrastructure, community facilities, school facilities, housing, and downtown development supporting communities, businesses and organizations. 


Cheryl Cohen, Administrator, Montana Housing

Cheryl CohenCheryl Cohen joined Montana Housing as Operations Manager in October 2018 and was hired as Division Administrator in May 2020. She previously served over eight years as a Community Development Specialist and Senior Community Development Specialist with the City of Seattle Office of Housing’s multifamily asset management unit. She has over 15 years of affordable housing compliance, property/asset management, and operations experience in the public and non-profit sectors. Cheryl is certified in low income housing tax credit compliance and is a Certified Specialist in HUD Occupancy. She has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Washington.





Jenny Pelej, Administrator, Office of Tourism and Business Development

Jenny Pelej

Jenny Pelej is the Division Administrator of the Office of Tourism and Business Development. Though she originally came to the state from Wisconsin, Jenny’s Montana connections run deep. The majority of her more than 19-year career in communications, promotions and policy has been spent working in government or non-profit organizations throughout the state. The remaining years of her career were spent with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Jenny holds a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources and Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in Public Relations from Montana State University. Jenny loves trail running, fishing, skiing and exploring all Montana has to offer with her son. (And since she came to Montana, she has lived in Helena twice, as well as Billings, Kalispell, Missoula and Bigfork.)

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