Surrounded by tents featuring the work of DMC and our partner organizations, the 2023 DMC Annual Meeting inspired attendees by sharing their key initiatives from the past year and what we can look forward to from them in the future.
Speaking to the group of stakeholders and community members were Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, DMC EDA President Dr. Clark Otley, DMC’s Equitable Economic Development Coordinator Wafa Elkhalifa, artist Ayub HajiOmar, and DMC EDA Executive Director Patrick Seeb.
The afternoon was centered around the theme of Connections. Mayor Norton began the program speaking about the physical connection around the DMC initiative. This includes the often overlooked below-ground infrastructure that is the backbone of any city, connecting vital services to homes and businesses downtown. Street and sidewalk improvements create a more accessible community, helping us move around, connecting us to the shopping, dining, housing, entertainment, and cultural anchors of our community.
Investments in public spaces were also brought to light. Mayor Norton added, “Soldiers Field Memorial Park is an amazing community asset that is getting a much-needed update. A plan informed by our community, it will continue to be a place where we make connections to each other and to our past and memories, all while leaving a wonderful asset for future generations.”
She also pointed to the Zumbro River as a natural connection, flowing through downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. With the Riverfront Small Area Plan nearing completion, and its vision for new public amenities, water access, housing, trails, and business opportunities realized, the community will find a new relationship to the Zumbro River.
“Another community asset- the soon-to-be Link Bus Rapid Transit – is a public transportation system that will provide easy access for residents, businesses, and downtown visitors to entertainment, jobs, and services along the 3-mile-long corridor – creating an even more accessible downtown,” stated Norton.
When DMC EDA President Dr. Clark Otley spoke, he expounded upon the multiple ways DMC invests in downtown Rochester. He provided two examples of “distinct but harmonious strategies. The first was DMC’s proactive approach to attracting new life science companies. One and Two Discovery Square were the early seeds that have already come to fruition. Proximate to Mayo Clinic researchers, educators, clinicals, and patients, these buildings are a welcome home to companies interested in tapping into the energy, creativity, and innovation of the top healthcare provider in the country.
“One of the things that Destination Medical Center and Discovery Square has allowed us to do… is be thoughtful, proactive, and purposeful,” said Dr. Otley. “We plan out the future rather than let it happen to us.”
In 2023, DMC will have been in more than 25 markets, hosted 80 influencers, generated more than 100 leads, and had its message in front of tens of thousands of key targets. Next year, the plan is to do more… much more.
Dr. Otley also highlighted the partnership with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development – the Main Street Economic Revitalization Grant program. The program awarded nearly $4 million to businesses and organizations in three corridors around Rochester; organizations that were most affected by the pandemic.
Through the life of the program:
- 71 businesses received funds
- 43 were retail and dining establishments
- 28% were BIPOC-led enterprises
- The average grant amount awarded was $60,000
It is important to note that the grant recipients had to match at least 70% of the total cost of their projects.
Following Dr. Otley’s comments, Wafa Elkhalifa, DMC’s Equitable Economic Development Coordinator took the stage to speak about the importance of social connections in the Rochester community.
“By prioritizing social connection, we were able to design a public space with heated sidewalks to remove barriers for community members with mobility challenges. With Intentional social connection, we were able to encourage construction companies to participate in the “Inclusive Workforce Employer Designation”. Through Utilizing social connection, we were able to uncover the real barriers that our BIPOC communities face in their pathways to home ownership.”
She spoke of the difficulty of infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion into community engagement; that desegregating a community to create a true sense of belonging that understands and respects everyone can be challenging for any organization.
Wafa pointed to the Community Co-design concept as a successful engagement tool that has been utilized to prioritize the diverse inclusion of community members in designing public spaces, policies, and procedures in projects like the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayor’s Challenge, the Main Street Grant Program, or the BIPOC Home Ownership Co-design.
“To answer the question, what does an ideal community look like? It is a community where social connection is intentional, prioritized, utilized, and celebrated. There are more of you when you are connected to others, so through unleashing your fullest potential we can lead and transform an “I” Community to a “We” community.”
Ayub HajiOmar addressed the crowd next. HajiOmar was one of two artists chosen to have their work placed in Discovery Walk, a 4-block long, linear parkway along 2nd Ave SW that will serve pedestrians as well as maintain vehicle access. His poetry will be featured on the face of benches spread throughout the parkway. An example of one of the benches was on display prior to the program beginning for attendees to experience.
Quoting Henri Matisse, “creativity takes courage”, HajiOmar related his family’s roots in Somalia, also known as the Nation of Poets. “Our culture revolves around poetry. We have ordinary conversations in poetry. In the old days, you couldn’t be a lawyer in Somalia unless you were a poet. The courtroom became a theater of sorts. Lawyers used linguistics and harmonious expressions to prove their client’s innocence.”
Despite years of war, famine, and instability, Somalia is experiencing a resurgence of resilience, inspiration, and success. “This spirit of resilience, inspiration, and success has shaped my work on this project as it is also heavily present right here in Rochester, at the Mayo Clinic & through the Destination Medical Center. I believe this is what makes for such a robust economy.”
DMC EDA Executive Director Patrick Seeb wrapped up the evening’s remarks with a subtle poke at our weather here in southeastern Minnesota. “When I travel the country or internationally promoting Rochester, we oftentimes make light of our weather here,” joked Seeb. “But I want to conclude by saying if you don’t choose to come to Rochester for the weather, come for the climate; a climate of innovation, a climate of collaboration, a climate of cooperation.”