Even those who have only the foggiest notion of what Destination Medical Center stands for understand that at its essence, DMC means change.

And opportunity.

And for Rochester's education leaders, that future holds exciting possibilities. If the projections described for the future come even close to coming true — 45,000 new jobs, $6 billion in new investment — Rochester's centers of education not only will benefit from the growth, they will be essential to it.

"It's likely that enrollment is going to grow" at Rochester Public Schools, said Rochester School Board member and former chairman Gary Smith. "The district is going to continue to grow. And the pressure to do even a better job preparing children for the future is going to increase along with that."

Rochester's institutions of higher learning — including Rochester Community and Technical College, Winona State University-Rochester and University of Minnesota-Rochester — already have begun holding talks about how to meet that future head-on, one leader said.

"Rochester is about to really transform into a very different community by sheer size, if nothing else," said Winona State University President Scott Olson. "How can we best serve that? So, yeah, there has been a lot of discussions."

WSU-Rochester is the second largest higher-education provider in Rochester, second only to RCTC, serving 1,000 students at its University Center Rochester site. WSU is not in the business of preparing and training medical doctors, but it does everything else. And as Rochester grows, so will the need for more accountants and finance experts for the growing number of banks, for more political scientists for its government agencies, and more teachers for its schools.

"Where are they going to come from?" Olson said. "Well, all that stuff is stuff that Winona State does."

Future hard to read

But nearly all of these leaders resist the temptation to predict what that future might look like. There is no crystal ball accurate enough to do that, they say. At the moment, the most visible signs of DMC is the activity in the business sector, as buildings are bought up and hoteliers make plans for what they believe will be the coming surge.

"Actually, I talked to a guy who runs a hotel recently, and he was saying, 'it's so early in the game. We don't know what DMC is going to look like even five years out, much less 10 or 20 years out,'" said former RCTC president Don Supalla.

But if the future looks foggy, DMC, they say, offers a chance to plan and prepare for that future and, in some cases, give shape and direction to it. Supalla, for example, is chair of a DMC learning environment subgroup, one of eight "pillars" convened to plan for that future.

Supalla said much of that conversation has focused on what he calls the "Mayo visitor."

"We haven't really focused on that potential customer in the past," Supalla said.

The Mayo visitor, says Supalla, is not only the patient who comes to Mayo Clinic for health care, but also the people who accompany the patient. They can include family and friends. And for every patient, there are more than two people who will join them. Here's another statistic: When a Mayo visitor comes to Rochester, about 30 percent of their time is spent at Mayo, while the rest -- 70 percent -- is essentially "open time."

"Well, gosh, I think they're a lot of potential opportunities that could be offered to these folks," Supalla said. "These people are willing to pay to go to the theater. They go out to eat. Why wouldn't they go out to an art show or take a short class or learn about the history of Mayo Clinic? They will pay for that."

Public forums planned

Supalla said the charge of the learning environment subgroup is not to determine what kind of educational programming will be needed for the future, but to put together a process to solicit "broad and deep community input." In pursuit of that goal, the group plans to hold a couple of public forums in the spring. The goal will be to learn not only what people like in terms of current educational programming, but what they would like to see created and designed for the future.

"Another question we are going to be asking is, how do you want to get this? Do you want it online? Do you want to do it live and in person? Do you want a hybrid combination of this," Supalla said.

Smith says it's important to put all this discussion about rampant growth into perspective. There is a tendency, he said, to make a big deal about all the growth projections. With all the feverish talk about growth fueled by a projected $6 billion in investment dollars over the next two decades, it's important to remember that the previous two decades saw $5.4 billion worth of growth. In other words, the growth Rochester is likely to see will be continuation of the previous 20 years. Not a quantum leap, but high-speed evolution.

"It's important for people to understand that DMC is a 20-year-deal," Smith said. "It's not a blink-your-eyes, here-it-is kind of thing. It's going to happen over time."

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