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Rochester's Google office is seeing more activity

Google announced the opening of a Rochester office, one of Google's few physical locations in the Midwest, in February 2021. While Google has declined to say how many employees work there, it appears the activity in the downtown office has slowly increased since it opened.

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Google Product Manager Chris Grenz and Software Engineer Kenneth Philbrick say the activity in Google's downtown Rochester office, the company's only one in Minnesota, has slowly increased since it opened in 2021.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Google's much-hyped first Minnesota office in Rochester seems to be slowly gaining some traction as a spot to meet and collaborate as workers begin to appear at the downtown spot.

In February 2021, Gov. Tim Walz, Mayor Kim Norton, Mayo Clinic executives and Destination Medical Center representatives made a splashy announcement that Google planned to open an office on the second floor of the Conley-Maass-Downs building at 14 Fourth St SW.

A collaboration between Google and Mayo Clinic is the main reason for Google's first footprint in Minnesota.

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The Rochester location represents one of Google's few physical offices in the Midwest.

The only other offices in the region are one in Madison, Wis. and Chicago. Google reports that the Madison office has more than 100 employees and the Chicago buildings house more than 1,800 Googlers.

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Google has repeatedly declined to say how many employees are working in the Rochester office, which occupies the 3,000-square-foot space where the Collider coworking location was previously based. Google has also declined to allow the Post Bulletin to visit or photograph the office, though it has allowed the media to spotlight the features of its offices in Madison, New York and its new Bay View Campus in California.

Since the original announcement, there has not been any updates about the office from Google, the state or the city of Rochester. Of course, many offices have been quiet in the past year as the pandemic drove people to work remotely.

“It's only relatively recently that the office has been able to be open (due to COVID concerns). Since then, there's a variety of Googlers, who have really taken advantage of it. The Rochester office has become an anchor point for outside Googlers from the Bay Area and from Canada, flying in and using that as a home base for hosting and collaborating with Mayo Clinic and others,” said Kenneth Philbrick, who has worked with Google in Rochester since the office was announced.

Philbrick, who has lived in Rochester for six years, left Mayo Clinic to join Google when the new office was announced.

“When the opportunity arose to join Google and continue to assist the partnership, I was just really thrilled to do that,” he said. “My primary project is digital pathology, which is a really exciting project. Mayo has been archiving slides for more than 100 years. We’re making over 22 million slides available across the clinic for AI, education and a variety of uses. It's really a phenomenal program”

Chris Grenz, a long-time Rochester resident and former IBMer, has been working for Google as a product manager for its Google 4 Clinicians service since October.

“I'm in the office one or two days a week. Mostly, it's just about flexibility for me. I do some traveling to meet my team, which is spread across California, London and Tel Aviv,” he said. “The Rochester office just gives me the ability to flex between home, work and travel.”

Both Philbrick and Grenz said that the office has provided a place for collaboration with some of the gatherings being hosted by the Bleu Duck Kitchen, which is located on the first floor of the building.

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“Having a physical presence downtown gives us a way to connect to the community,” added Grenz.”The community can see that Google's investing in a physical space in a visible and tangible way. I hope that helps the community realize that we do have a presence here and that's something that is important.”

Google recently released its annual U.S. economic impact report broken down by state. The report stated that Google spurred $10.59 billion of economic activity “for tens of thousands of Minnesota businesses, nonprofits, publishers, creators and developers” in 2022.

The report spotlighted the new Rochester office stating, “Once fully operational, work taking place out of this office will primarily focus on the Mayo Clinic and Google partnership, with an emphasis on Google Cloud and Google Health.”

While COVID has hampered the activity in the office, employees say it is increasing.

“It's definitely on an upward trajectory. It's obviously very up and down based on what's happening at any point in time. It's not a steady thing, but it is definitely going in the right direction,” said Grenz. “We're going through a lot more coffee than we did when we started.”

While the office did not bring him to Rochester, Grenz said it allows him to remain here and that’s important to him.

“It's great that I can live in a place that I love and I basically have no limits on where I can go in terms of progressing my career and raising my family here in Rochester. And bringing those two things together is enormously valuable to me,” he said.

Jeff Kiger tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in "Heard on the Street." Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.

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Heard Around Rochester - Jeff Kiger.png

Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard Around Rochester," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.
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