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Mayo Clinic growth plan has many supporters, a few critics

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Mayo Clinic President and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy reacts to a comment during a press conference Wednesday at the state Capitol about the clinic's Destination Medical Center initiative.
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Mayo Clinic's ambitious new Destination Medical Center Plan already has garnered a big coalition of supporters, although at least one legislator says Rochester should contribute more to the endeavor.

More than 20 project supporters from the Rochester area traveled to St. Paul for the announcement, including business and labor leaders, along with elected officials at the local and state level. The proposal has the support of Rochester's entire legislative delegation — both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, is expected to author the bill in the Senate and Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester will carry it in the House.

"This is an incredibly valuable asset for the state of Minnesota, and we are going to work collectively to make sure this asset not only stays here but grows here," Senjem said. "We have an opportunity with this piece of legislation to do that."

Among the key lawmakers backing the project is Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook. The first step in moving the legislation forward will be involved setting up a bipartisan, bicameral working group to carefully analyze the plan.

"It's a little premature to have definitive answers to these relatively complex questions," he said.

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Speaker of the House Paul Thissen issued a statement saying the DFL-led House is eager to work with Mayo Clinic, but he stopped short of endorsing the Destination Medical Center proposal.

"We look forward to working with them to identify way we can make sure Mayo Clinic remains and grows as a world-class medical and research facility," he said.

More from Rochester?

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk also issued a statement saying the state needs to partner with the clinic on its efforts, but adding that such a project will require bipartisan participation in the Legislature and significant involvement from city and county partners from the start.

According to media reports, Bakk is inclined to support the proposal but said Rochester and Olmsted County need to pitch in a greater share.

"If the city or the county are going to be our local partner, what kind of capacity do they have to partner with the state and with the significant private investment that the Mayo is proposing to put in?" Bakk said. "Much like Hennepin County partnered with the Twins stadium, much like the city of Minneapolis partnered with the Vikings stadium."

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said the proposal has the city's full support. He notes residents already have "skin in the game" after approving a local-option sales tax extension in November that allocates $20 million toward the DMC initiative.

"This whole plan is just well thought-out. We're behind it 100 percent and obviously the growth that will come will benefit all of us," he said.

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Staying competitive

The DMC initiative is geared toward making sure Mayo Clinic is able to compete with other medical facilities eager to establish themselves as a destination medical center.

"Competitors such as Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General and others, as well as foreign entities in Europe and Asia, are making significant strategic moves and investments in order to replicate the 'Mayo model' and surpass Mayo as a global DMC in order to capture the significant economic benefits generated by 'high-value' medical spending," A Mayo handout says.

Lisa Clarke, administrator of Mayo Clinic's DMC initiative, said the clinic surveyed patients, visitors, community members and business travelers to talk about what the community has to offer. That research showed there are gaps such as a lack of different types of entertainment and the need for a more active, vibrant downtown.

These sorts of improvements are critical to make sure Mayo Clinic can continue to attract top talent to work for it and keep patients coming to the state.

A "satisfaction gap" among clinic employees, their families and Rochester residents has made it harder to recruit new physicians and others to relocate to Rochester, Mayo CEO John Noseworthy told the Star Tribune.

Mayo Clinic officials also emphasize that the public financing plan includes safeguards to protect taxpayers. None of the additional tax money could be tapped for projects until the state's Department of Revenue verifies that the clinic is generating new tax money for the state.

Not a handout

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"We are not looking for a handout or upfront money from the state. We are seeking an infusion of state dollars based on proof, not the promise of investment, and we are confident that the return will be felt across Minnesota through quality jobs in science, medicine, research, travel and hospitality," Noseworthy said.

A nine-member public board would be created to oversee how the tax dollars from the DMC special taxing district are used. The membership would be broken down as follows: Three members appointed by the governor, three appointed by the mayor, one by the county and two by the Minnesota Legislature.

To help push the project forward, Mayo Clinic has assembled a coalition of supporters from both business and labor, along with elected leaders. Many of those briefed as the plan moved forward were required by Mayo to agree to a non-disclosure of the details. Kathleen Harrington, division chairwoman of Government Relations at Mayo Clinic, said it is important to realize this project is not just about Rochester. It's about helping the entire state.

"We are not looking at this, nor is the leadership of the Capitol looking at this, as a Rochester ask. This is a state of Minnesota ask," she said. "This is really responding to the need to maintain Minnesota as a destination medical state."

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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