2 min read November 2021 — Rochester is rediscovering a sense of confidence as it moves toward recovery from the pandemic. In an interview with Invest:, Patrick Seeb, executive director of economic development initiative Destination Medical Center (DMC), discussed the area’s characteristics that make it the place to be for healthcare and tech.
How did DMC come to fruition and where does it stand today?
Destination Medical Center (DMC), a unique economic development initiative, was born from the expectation that Mayo Clinic, Minnesota’s largest private employer, anchored here in Rochester, would grow its business. In doing so, it could continue to foster the city’s growth alongside attracting top talent from around the US and the world, in addition to attracting more patients and their family members.
Unlike many economic development initiatives, whereby development often outstrips the community’s infrastructure, resulting in traffic congestion, water shortage, inadequate public spaces, and the like, Destination Medical Center is built on the idea of proactively investing in infrastructure to enable growth. This was the idea when we were established in 2015 and it has really proven to have withstood the test of time.
We have a 20-year arc to our work. By thinking about this city’s building effort over that long a time span, setbacks, disruptions or economic recessions are to be expected. Things are not going to be constant. During COVID, we became the stable economic development force in the community during these ups, downs and challenges.
We went into the pandemic in strong shape. Our economy was growing. Various market segments, including hotels, residential and commercial retail, were all very strong. While Mayo Clinic stopped elective surgeries and elective procedures for eight weeks to make sure that they were ready to handle any influx of COVID patients, they reopened in full force in early summer 2020, and recovered quickly. Their patient and visitor counts rose quite rapidly. That’s partly because of their networks throughout the country and around the world.
What key projects does DMC have in its pipeline?
The Destination Medical Center economic development program consists of hundreds of projects, big and small, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Let’s use the Discovery Square initiative as an example. Not only is Mayo Clinic the #1 health care provider in the country, it is also a world leader in medical research. Tapping into that culture, we are creating a new innovation district known as Discovery Square. This is a live, work, play, concept, adjacent to Mayo research buildings and its medical education programs that are attracting Fortune 500 companies and start-ups alike. Google, Epic, Phillips, Exact Sciences, Boston Scientific, and others have planted a flag here.
But more than just office spaces and labs, the district offers contemporary living spaces, new restaurants, and public spaces, all designed to stimulate interaction between Mayo Clinic scientists, industry experts, and students. Someone used the phrase “orchestrated serendipity” when describing the idea behind Discovery Square. He was imagining the power of Mayo Clinic’s “bench to bedside” philosophy (from the laboratory to clinical setting) coupled with the private sector’s strength in commercialization, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution. And the curiosity and energy of students and young practitioners.
This is what is driving the success of Discovery Square.
What is your take on the future of office space in the area?
Like every community, we’re rethinking how commercial office space can be used. We have a couple of good pre-pandemic examples, such as out-of-date hotels that were converted to single-room occupancy housing where there is a centralized kitchen and small apartments, basically for people who are here for the short term — three to six months. We want to lean into such examples around repurposing hotels with respect to commercial office space.
Cities like Rochester are really being proactive in thinking about equity, inclusion diversity and how to enable more marginalized communities to have access to prosperity and opportunity. The vacancy that is being created represents an opportunity to introduce communities that have not otherwise had a presence in our Downtown. Perhaps creating some pop-up restaurants and retail space for minority-owned businesses that maybe never had a Downtown presence to introduce their food to the commuter community, to visitors. Maybe eventually that leads them to having a brick-and-mortar space Downtown. It represents a pretty exciting opportunity for cities like ours that really want to democratize the prosperity that is happening.
One of the things that we did pre-pandemic, that has become an important building block post-pandemic, is being intentional about ensuring that women and minority-owned contractors, construction workers, professional architects and designers have an opportunity to win the work that is going on.
Recognizing that there is going to be nearly $6 billion of construction here, we knew this presented a huge opportunity to grow and diversify the construction industry. We set targets for participation of women and minority-owned businesses in the construction trades on DMC projects. In order to reach and exceed these targets, we tried to understand and address the obstacles these businesses face.
Here’s what we learned. Many are very small. They are startups. They do not have a multigenerational background. They don’t have deep pockets or long-established business networks.
We found a way to break up the construction contracts into smaller pieces, so that the smaller companies, oftentimes women and minority-owned companies, have a better chance to win those bids and win those contracts because they could not afford the insurance or they lacked the track record to be able to win an entire $40 million project, for example. But maybe they could win the $200,000 flooring contract, or a piece of it. And we incentivized established contractors to bring in women and minority owned businesses on their teams as subcontractors.
What is your outlook for 2022?
I’m very optimistic. After all, Rochester is America’s City for Health. Never before has this been more important.
People are looking for communities with high vaccination rates, a culture of public health safety, access to public spaces, quality health care, clean air, and great job opportunities. We check all of those boxes.
And we are a city of innovation.
When you combine all of this, I see a future where we are home to the start-up of the next national food chain—focusing on healthy food. Or the place you will come for cutting edge prosthetics or wheelchairs and mobility devices that connect with Google maps, I can see fashion designers working with tech and AI experts to design clothing with embedded health technology. We will be a test site for infrastructure ideas that promote, measure, and gamify physical activity.
The promise of DMC is to help transform Rochester. The opportunity is to help transform America.