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THE FUTURE OF THE MED CITY: City leaders discuss impact of pandemic on Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) — As the pandemic continues to drag on, it has become harmful to the health of the local economy as well as residents.

Friday saw the largest single day of new COVID-19 cases for Minnesota since the start of the pandemic.

“2,300 new cases in a single day. That’s family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and loved ones that have been affected by this disease,” said Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Rochester is no exception. Olmsted County health officials announced 68 new cases Friday as it climbs closer to the 3,000 case mark.

However, some in Rochester are optimistic for the city’s future after the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t say we’re pandemic proof, but I would say that we weathered the last recession quite well,” said Mayor Kim Norton.

Those at Destination Medical Center (DMC) agree.

“We’re better off than many cities in Minnesota and across the country but still not as well off as we were eight months ago,” said DMC Economic Director Patrick Seeb.

Rochester is a healthcare destination, with the industry being the city’s biggest sector for employment.

“Mayo (Clinic) does seem to be managing through the pandemic,” Norton said. “I think that bodes well to the other businesses in our community.”

While the medical field may be busy and bringing visitors to town, the hospitality industry in the Med City continues to struggle.

“Conferences and conventions have fallen off precipitously. Hotel occupancy is way down,” Seeb said. “People are not feeling safe. We as a community have to do everything to create confidence.”

The economic downturn forced leaders and organizations to step up.

“It’s finding ways to help those businesses,” Seeb said. “As I mentioned, the outdoor patios have been a huge hit. Continue to support businesses as they innovate.”

The Rochester Downtown Alliance pitched in with a $1 million grant thanks to an anonymous donor. The money will help 85 local businesses deal with the pandemic.

The city hopes not just to keep existing businesses afloat but also continue looking forward to future projects.

“Cities that invest in their public infrastructure during a downturn are the ones that come out of it faster and stronger,” Seeb said. “We are fortunate here in Rochester that we have the resources.”

Seeb said DMC worked with local businesses to increase outdoor seating over the summer and hopes to do the same to find innovative ways to seat customers outside warmly and safely in the winter months.

He also credits the presence and growth of the University of Minnesota Rochester as another reason why the future is bright for the Med City.

Alex Tejada

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