The Mayo Clinic, a name synonymous with healing, is also the label on a headache afflicting Gov. Mark Dayton and the 2013 Legislature.
Lucky them, and lucky Minnesota. That’s a highly desirable growing pain lawmakers are feeling, one their counterparts in scores of other states can only envy.
Mayo Clinic’s massive Destination Medical Center proposal seeks state help — a headache-inducing $525 million — for public infrastructure costs associated with a nearly $6 billion expansion in Rochester over the next 20 years.
Mayo is situated in a city too small to cover those costs on its own because of a random act of nature 130 years ago, the story goes. Pioneer Dr. William Worrall Mayo and the Sisters of St. Francis collaborated to build a hospital and enlarge Mayo’s practice after an 1883 tornado left the young city in desperate need of more medical care.
True enough. But I’d submit that the Mayo Clinic’s persistence in Minnesota is no accident. More than is often told, Mayo has thrived because Rochester sits in the orbit of the University of Minnesota.
Drs. Will and Charles Mayo, the clinic founder’s sons, evidently understood the importance of the University of Minnesota to Mayo nearly 100 years ago. In 1915-17, they donated $2 million to medical education at the U. Adjust that for 100 years of inflation, and it may still rank as the largest gift to the university in state history. Will Mayo started the tradition of a “Mayo seat” on the Board of Regents in 1907.
Collaboration on research and medical education between the state’s largest private employer and its only research university continued through the years, and has intensified in the past decade. Witness the establishment of the University of Minnesota, Rochester in 2006.
This branch of the university is so small that it’s tucked into leased space in downtown office buildings and so new that it will graduate its first baccalaureate class this year. That office space is directly across the street from the Mayo Clinic. Its first graduates are prepared for health-related careers.
If Mayo planners seek evidence that the state of Minnesota is willing to help them meet their growth needs, they need only look across the street.
“We’re a niche-based campus,” Rochester chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle said. The university set up shop in Rochester expressly to give Mayo a steady stream of new workers in exotic-sounding specialties like echocardiography and sonography, and to refresh the skills of Mayo’s existing workforce.
“Our challenge is to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist, to solve problems we don’t yet know about, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented,” Lehmkuhle said. Its students can earn professional certificates and degrees simultaneously.
This is an educational enterprise fully dedicated to learning, he said. It owns no dormitories and expends few resources on amenities. Its idea of a student athletic program is free memberships at the Y.
The little campus serves just 700 students now, but it’s primed for growth. Its master plan envisions growth to 1,500 students in the near term and 5,000 students eventually. A building of its own is bound to be part of a future legislative bonding request, though there’s no mention of that dream on this year’s capital investment wish list from the U.
When that inevitable request comes, state lawmakers should see it as a way to fuel to one of this state’s strongest economic engines.
Mayo is encountering resistance at the Legislature because it is asking for something the state has never done for one city or employer before. It seeks to shave off a big slice of future state tax receipts traceable to downtown Rochester for at least the next two decades. That money would service the debt on a bonding commitment that would gobble up a lion’s share of the state’s borrowing capacity.
That request is giving legislators understandable pause, even though they see that Mayo is a whale of a lot more important to this state’s future than last session’s special pleader, the Minnesota Vikings.
Whispered word at the Capitol last week is that an alternative proposal is in the works.
I’d advise the revisers to stick with more familiar financial tools. Legislators are used to distributing bonding money in sustained dribs and drabs for big projects (witness flood abatement and the Capitol itself). They’re accustomed to authorizing local and regional taxes and tax-increment-financing districts. They’ve got experience with regional economic development authorities. They know a few things about dedicated taxes.
And they know — or should — that state government shares in the university’s land-grant duty to meet the workforce and research needs of what is arguably the state’s most important industry.
The first iteration of the Destination Medical Center proposal was silent about state support for growth at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. But plainly Mayo expects that campus to grow apace with its own operations. It’s counting on the university to educate a goodly share of the thousands of new employees it intends to hire, as well as to contribute to Rochester’s appeal as a “destination” for talented workers and their talented spouses.Maybe Mayo is taking state support for its campus neighbor for granted. Maybe it shouldn’t.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. Her blog is Minnesota Matters.