Looking past the pandemic and to the future, Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. is gearing up to retain local businesses and jobs as Mayo Clinic aims to make health care “tenfold better.”

RAEDI held its virtual annual meeting via Zoom on Thursday to report on its actions of the past year and to look to the future.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, RAEDI acted as a central administrator for various federal, state and local support funds slated to support struggling businesses.

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The nonprofit economic development organization helped distribute almost $4 million of CARES Act money to more than 250 area businesses through the Olmsted County Small Business Relief Program. It also administered the State of Minnesota Small Business Relief Program to distribute $2.89 million in grants to 169 businesses and nonprofits.

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RAEDI also managed the City of Rochester emergency loan program, which distributed $250,000 from the Economic Development Fund to 13 businesses. Two businesses have already repaid the loans.

Overall, Interim RAEDI President John Wade said the organization did what it could to help businesses survive and position the local economy for recovery.

“Strategically, we are focusing on job creation and retention .... and making sure all of the base business that we have here today continue to be here. And that businesses that want to expand here have the tools and infrastructure to make that possible,” he said.

Wade, former president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, stepped into the leadership role at RAEDI in October following the resignation of Ryan Nolander.

Wade gave the virtual audience an example of RAEDI helping keep a longtime Rochester manufacturer and its almost 500 jobs here as the owners considered making changes.

“We worked very closely with the city, DEED ( Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) and others to ensure their [Crenlo’s] continued viability,” he said, adding that the 70-year-old cab maker also made its first investment in RAEDI in the history of the company.

Wade said that while his vision of the local economy’s future is “sunny,” RAEDI wants to make sure everyone in the community will benefit from that future.

“... [We want to] make sure we build this community into one that is business friendly, but also allows everybody to participate in it,” he said. “I do believe that brighter days are ahead of us.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Clark Otley of Mayo Clinic echoed that vision of better days ahead for Rochester and Mayo Clinic.

Otley, the medical director for Mayo’s Dept. of Business Development and chief medical officer for the Mayo Clinic Platform, said that the pandemic pushed the clinic to speed up its development of telehealth offerings. CEO Gianrico Farrugia made it clear that Mayo Clinic has a “moral obligation” to not rest on its past successes and first place awards

“‘We will not accept being number one. That’s not good enough,’” he quoted Farrugia as saying, going on to describe the CEO’s vision of Mayo Clinic transforming health care to be “Tenfold better. Tenfold faster. Tenfold more efficient.. To take health care to the next level … to the kind of Star Trek type care.”

That vision will mean ramping up the Mayo Clinic Platform initiative and its partnership with Google.

“Moving ahead, digital technology ... and artificial intelligence applications are where we’re going to make our biggest advances,” said Otley. “This is not an academic exercise.”