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Jeff Fee is the regional chief executive for Providence Health and Services, Montana, which encompasses St. Patrick Hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson and many other clinics in the region. As of July 1, Providence is part of a larger system, Providence St. Joseph Health.

DAVID ERICKSON, Missoulian

Investors still have a "healthy appetite" for the work of the Missoula Economic Partnership, but they also want to see the organization make changes, according to chairman Jeff Fee.

In an update to investors last week, Fee said economic development is a process for the long haul, and investors in the public-private partnership are eager to see Missoula's effort continue.

However, Fee, CEO of Providence St. Patrick Hospital, also said members have aired criticisms of the partnership, and the MEP is making adjustments to address them.

Some of the shortcomings include lack of communication, lack of transparency, mission drift, scope creep and "hogging credit."

"That was, I think, a very valid criticism," Fee said.

To address the concerns of investors, he said the economic partnership plans to hold monthly lunches with 10 to 15 investors at a time.

***

The partnership also brought Drew Rieker to the podium to share a financial review at its annual meeting Friday.

Since its inception in November 2010, the Missoula Economic Partnership has pulled in some $3.5 million in support and revenue, and it counts $3.2 million in expenses, according to a statement of activities.

The partnership has had to write off some $80,000 in pledges, but the amount represents less than the average write-off, said Rieker, of JCCS.

***

Partnership CEO and president James Grunke said his office can point to more than 1,100 direct jobs created since its inception, and additional annual payroll of $115 million.

In Missoula, unemployment is down, and as many as 1,400 jobs are posted and open, he said. However, he said the number of jobs isn't the full picture.

Rather, the partnership's focus is on wages, Grunke said.

The national average weekly wage is $1,048. By comparison, it's $836 in Billings, $699 in Great Falls, and $716 in Missoula County, he said.

"This is the measure we're really trying to move," Grunke said. "We think that the leading community for economic prosperity in this state should be Missoula."

In other news, Grunke said the partnership continues to work on air travel. A recent survey indicated just 20 percent of travelers at the Missoula airport were flying for business, and the other 80 percent were on the move for leisure.

The data corresponded to a figure American Airlines shared with the partnership, he said. It estimates that some 83 percent of its passengers fly just once a year.

Grunke said the information is important because it informs the way the MEP approaches its efforts in air travel.

The biggest announcement Friday was an effort to bring a private for-profit medical college to Missoula. Grunke and Mayor John Engen lauded the effort by Manipal Education Americas as a boon for economic development in Missoula, but to date, hospital officials and the University of Montana have not shared their stances.

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Reporter for the Missoulian