Health care, education drive Rochester's rapid growthby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester, Minn. — Rochester is more diverse and bigger than ever before.
Between 2000 and 2010, Census data show the city experienced some of the fastest growth in the state -- 24 percent growth from 85,806 to 106,769 residents.
In the in last decade, the city added thousands of new jobs, particularly in health care and education.
There are signs of growth all around Rochester.
Housing developments continue to push the boundaries of the city further north and south-- despite the economic downturn of recent years.
The city's public transit system got a makeover last summer with five new bus shelters downtown.
And then there's the new University of Minnesota-Rochester building.
Construction of the 25,000-square-foot facility is underway right now. When it opens this fall, it'll offer programs and course specializing in medical technology and health care fields. The facility will feature additional classrooms, labs and dorms for roughly 500 students.
Chancellor Steve Lehmkuhle toured the facility yesterday with a group of university administrators as well as Mayo Clinic employees.
Standing on a fourth-floor balcony that still under construction, Lehmkuhle said it's easy to see why Rochester grew so much in the last decade.
"There are two sectors of the economy that are growing. It's education and health care and Rochester is in the sweet spot of both," he said. "So it's not surprising that has grown and it will continue to grow. And what's exciting is that the city anticipates this growth and is preparing for it."
Lehmkuhle said people continue to move to Rochester for two reasons: jobs and educational opportunities.
"I can so see that just standing here in this building. I really feel that this building is the catalyst for future downtown development. This area is just so ripe for development because all you see, in essence is a bunch of parking lots," he said.
Rochester's educational sector, as well as its unparalleled health care industry, have been the centerpiece of the city's growth in the last decade.
And at the center of that is the Mayo Clinic.
In 2001, the clinic opened the Gonda building, a 20-story, towering glass building, that located at the heart of downtown Rochester.
It's connected to a few other Mayo buildings, including the Methodist Hospital, and together they form the largest interconnected medical facility in the world now.
Between 2000 and 2009, Rochester saw more than 11,000 jobs added to the community. Most of those were health care related, and many of those were at Mayo.
Renee Kolle moved to Rochester from Fargo six years ago. Like many businesses, hers caters to Mayo's patient population. She owns a wig shop right in front of the Mayo Clinic.
Kolle said in addition to jobs, a lot of people move to town just to be closer to Mayo.
"A lot of people move for medical reasons. They end up needing more care, so they end up staying," she said. "I live downtown and quite a few of my neighbors live here permanently, or come back for half the year."
With the population surge, Rochester's experienced some growing pains, too. The city is much more ethnically and racially diverse.
Phil Wheeler, the city's planning director, admits there are some things Rochester doesn't have, but what Rochester can offer is what many people are looking for.
"We have no oceans or mountains. No natural lakes. We have a good quality of life but that quality of life is based on to a large extent, to jobs and job opportunities here," he said. "So, the two motivations for people to move here, I think are mostly jobs and partly family."
Wheeler says that growth has created challenges. The city has fewer city workers -- and more area to cover -- per capita than it did 10 years ago.
"In a cost-constrained environment, where state aides and so on are being cut, we are never the less having to maintain more miles of streets, more miles of sewer and water," he said. "All of the city's infrastructure grows pretty much as fast as the population grows, but the city employment to take care of those things, police fire and all that stuff, is constrained."
Even facing those challenges, Rochester's been able to handle the growth it's seen in the last decade, and Wheeler predicts that growth will continue.
- Morning Edition, 03/18/2011, 8:25 a.m.