The World Will Send Its Sick People to Rochester, Minnesota

The cure for a fever is the cold.

With the help of municipal, county, and state government, private sector participation, and roughly $6.5 billion, Rochester, Minnesota, is looking to refashion itself into the world’s first medical city. The Mayo Clinic has attracted the ill and ailing to the city for 126 years, but the new Destination Medical Center project looks to extrapolate on that success to the tune of creating a city that exports wellness. The project is comparable to similarly audacious exercises in urban planning happening in the Middle East, but it is also different because the form fits the function.

The idea sounds farfetched — and the early drawings are pretty outrageous, especially by Minnesota’s Lutheran standards — but it ultimately makes sense. Rochester could make this work for several reasons.

1. Prestige

The Mayo Clinic is famous, and rightly so, for being one of the best medical facilities on the planet. What’s more, it isn’t just famous in America. Many of the clinic’s patients are international and its reputation extends beyond our borders. Rochester itself is cache, but as the clinic and the city are conflated, which is precisely the idea here, branding will pretty much handle itself.

2. Talent

As it stands, many medical professionals would love to work at the Mayo Clinic, but are loathe to make the leap because of the dual risks it represents: They might hate Rochester and they might hate their job. The project eliminates one of those concerns (getting a new job in a hospital-centric Rochester wouldn’t be tricky) and diminishes the other (a city of likeminded medical types should appeal to likeminded medical types).

3. Culture

Minnesota is known for being very white — both atmospherically and demographically — but its cities are actually extremely diverse. There are large immigrant populations and the state’s urban politics tend to be quite liberal. There is little reason to think the host would reject the infected.

4. Land

Minnesota is a big, flat place. Whatever the additionally infrastructure needs might be, they can probably be met at a reasonable price point.

5. America

The debates around health care policy notwithstanding, America is the de facto home of the pharmaceutical industry and biotech industries, which will be heavily subsidizing this endeavor. It’s in the industry’s best interest to have an industry town (economies of scale!) so the buy-in of multibillion-dollar corporations should help move things forward.

The remaining question is this: Will it happen? It’s hard to say. America is not great at these sorts of projects because our laws were designed to facilitate continuous slow growth and constant expansion. It will likely depend on whether or not the DMC can make an economic argument for itself, thus sidestepping party-line debates.

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