To: Dr. John Noseworthy
President and CEO
Dear Dr. Noseworthy:
You have laid out a far-reaching and transformative public-private partnership for the state of Minnesota. Your basic request of more than $550 million of public bonding to be matched by $5 billion to be raised by the Mayo is an important and sensible expenditure of taxpayers’ bonding authority.
The Mayo plan is basically to invest in improving downtown Rochester, and upgrading the transportation infrastructure and cultural attractiveness of the entire area. The Mayo Clinic will spend $5 billion on improving these facilities and adding to its already impressive campus.
The benefits to Minnesota would be enormous. Conservative estimates say that this project would produce at least 25,000 new jobs and increase tax revenue by $3 billion over 20 years. Construction projects of this scale (and at these low interest rates) would be a further stimulus to our state economy.
Let’s briefly discuss other public expenditures that we have made recently. Target Field at almost $600 million (half of it county, not state money, but taxpayers’ money nonetheless) has produced, according to recent newspaper articles, $52 million in increased tax revenue in the last three years. We are all for the new baseball stadium in downtown Minneapolis, which adds much to the quality of life and the attractiveness of Minneapolis as a destination.
The new Vikings’ stadium, which again entails public bonding of more than $550 million, is financed by a gambling gimmick, which has so far shown disappointing results. We all support the new Vikings’ stadium as a social amenity that will produce some increased tax revenue and continue to make Minneapolis an attractive destination. To a much lesser degree, the same argument—attractiveness as a destination—can be made for the TCF Bank stadium built on land donated by University of Minnesota (and at considerably less taxpayer expense).
But let’s be honest here. Health care is infinitely more important than professional baseball, or even professional football. Estimates predict that health care will account for 20 percent of our entire economy by 2020. It is the one part of our economy that can be confidently predicted to increase in the future. And let’s talk about the kind of jobs that are produced in the sports complex as opposed to the health care complex: concessionaires and ticket takers as opposed to intake clerks and nursing professionals. Much of the reason that the per capita income in Rochester ranks among the highest in the state has to do with the impact of the Mayo Clinic and its payroll.
There is also a geographic reason the Mayo Clinic proposal makes a great deal of sense. The taxpayers of this state (and Hennepin County) have spent a huge amount of money to make Minneapolis an attractive destination. With the exception of the state Capitol and the Minnesota Wild, pretty much everything else takes place in a nine-square-block area in downtown Minneapolis. The beneficial impact this has had on the downtown core is undeniable. But Rochester is almost entirely a story of the Mayo Clinic and IBM; it does not have a major university nor a major sports stadium (and hasn’t even spent public money on huge shopping centers). It is time to redress this imbalance for the benefit of the entire state.
The Mayo Clinic proposes that it will invest more than $5 billion in Rochester to build the Destination Medical Center, alongside the $550 million it has requested in public bonding. That’s a 10-to-1 ratio, which serves as a painful reminder of the 30 to 50 percent usually contributed by sports teams to their publicly financed stadia.
No sports team with a straight face can predict 25,000 to 30,000 new jobs and $3 billion growth in tax revenue to the State of Minnesota as a result of a stadium project; the Mayo Clinic can. It’s already responsible for approximately 50,000 jobs in Minnesota and $9 billion in revenue, so their predictions are an extension of their historical success.
Sooner or later, if our state is to become a true economic powerhouse, we have to make public investments in productive infrastructure: the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and far-reaching projects like the Destination Medical Center proposed by the Mayo Clinic. Sports stadia provide important entertainment, but those are games. The real game is increasing productivity.
Minnesota should be the nation’s center for health treatment and health innovation, and that requires that we invest in projects like the Destination Medical Center. Who knows? Rochester may even get a United States Hockey League team. The irony, of course, is that the highest-paid employees in those sports (the players) will need a lot of medical care, and soon. Here’s hoping they can get it in Rochester at the Destination Medical Center.
Vance K. Opperman
For Better Health
Vance K. Opperman (email@example.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.