Fee pleased with MEP’s progress as he steps down from board of directors

Jeff Fee

By Martin Kidston

Jeff Fee, the departing CEO of Providence St. Patrick Hospital, is also stepping away from his role as chairman of the Missoula Economic Partnership’s Board of Directors, he said Tuesday, adding that he plans to stay in Missoula.

Fee, who helped create MEP, said his tenure as chairman had run longer than he’d anticipated. He believes the organization has taken strides over the past six years in growing the city’s economic standing.

Scott Burke, president of First Security Bank, has been recommended as Fee’s replacement as board chair.

“When I got to Missoula, I mentioned the word economic development, and it was actually kind of a dirty word,” Fee told a gathering of MEP investors on Tuesday. “People recoiled at that word. But as someone once said, ‘Never waste a good crisis.’”

Back in 2008, Fee said Missoula had a crisis on its hands. Two large employers, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. and the Stimson Lumber Co. mill, both closed in a short period of time, handing the city and hundreds of workers a major economic setback.

The closures also marked a turning point in Missoula’s future. Fee believes MEP has played a role in shaping that future by helping grow and retain existing businesses. It also has worked to attract new businesses, and it has formed partnerships with area colleges and universities in an effort to train the city’s workforce to compete in emerging fields.

“We don’t necessarily want (Missoula) to become a recreational economy because of the implications in terms of what that looks like for us,” said Fee. “If we don’t figure out a way to tackle the challenges and build the boat we want to build, someone else will do it for us. That is the reason we formed MEP in the first place, for us to take the reins of our future and define it for ourselves.”

Fee arrived in 2006 to serve as president of St. Patrick Hospital, where he was responsible for assuring quality patient care. He most recently served as regional chief executive for Providence Health & Services in Montana.

But last month, Providence said it was restructuring in an effort to operate more affordably and to “keep resources at the patient’s bedside.” Fee will leave the hospital at the end of this year and won’t be replaced.

Joyce Dombrouski, the current COO of Western Montana Regional, will expand her current role and oversee the day-to-day operations of St. Pat’s in Missoula and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson.

“I never thought I’d envision rolling off the (MEP) board as the chair and leaving Providence at the same time,” Fee said. “Now I get to test the waters of the economic development opportunities in Montana.”

Missoula Mayor John Engen praised Fee for his service, calling him a thoughtful, strategic and compassionate leader who has worked to make Missoula a better place.

Engen declared Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, “Jeff Fee Day.”

“(Fee) and I began talking about economic development shortly after his arrival here, and it wasn’t always a rosy picture, and it wasn’t always smooth sailing,” Engen said. “We got to a place here today because of his hard work and his commitment.”

Fee said he leaves both MEP and St. Pat’s in good standing. He plans to stay in Missoula.

“This is my home, and if I can figure out a way to stay here, I’m going to be right here with you,” Fee said. “I’m on the market, so if you’ve got opportunities or ideas, let me know.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com