Jerry Williams
Jerry Williams
Dinner and DMC.

That's what's on the menu at the fourth annual Spring Valley Area Foundation banquet on Saturday, April 26, as Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce Interim President Jerry Williams shares about Destination Medical Center (DMC), the $5.6 billion capital investment project in motion in Rochester to improve the city's infrastructure and attract businesses to the region.

Williams, who has been with the Chamber for the past two months, has a strong administration background, suiting him well to be a spokesman for DMC. He retired seven years ago this coming summer as superintendent of Rochester Public Schools, following a 41-year career in public education.

"I decided it was time to transition to other things, which I've enjoyed doing," he said.

He's currently chair of the board of the Rochester Public Utilities, on the advisory and review committee for a higher education project with the Bush Foundation and on the Salvation Army Advisory Board. He was chair of the successful effort to renew the local option sales tax, and chair of a task force to improve the residential and commercial development and permitting process in Rochester. He is also on the board of the Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., on the steering committee for the Journey to Growth economic diversification initiative, and involved in several other things.

Williams stated that conversations about DMC emerged into public view in late summer or early fall of 2010 when it was presented to a committee that he was chairing, the Sales Tax Advisory Committee. This group, appointed by the mayor and city council, was charged with coming up with a list of projects to present to the voters that would benefit from a renewal of the local option sales tax. DMC then was only a $20 million proposal, and committee members didn't realize how much bigger it would become as a result of the legislative action in the spring of 2013.

"I became pretty actively involved with it after the success of our sales tax vote in November 2012. I began going out into the community and talking about what the vision was of this bill - DMC - which was at that time in front of the Legislature," said Williams. "I'm not employed by Mayo, and all of this that I'm doing is purely volunteer on my part. I hope people can sense my excitement in doing so. To talk about not only the health care future of our area but also the economic future is in itself very exciting."

DMC was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton last May after the bill was approved by the Legislature and is well on its way to becoming part of the Rochester area's future. Now the implementation phase has begun. The first thing to happen will be the development of an economic development plan, explained Williams. It will be several months, though, before that's finished. DMC is not "an overnight thing or a next-month event. It is a 20-year plan built around $5.6 billion of capital investment."

He feels that DMC will keep the Rochester area competitive for numerous reasons. "More jobs equal more people spending money, which equals more businesses," he said. "Smaller communities will also benefit from that, too, with the addition of jobs in those places."

His words on DMC have been "exceptionally well received" as he addresses organizations, school administrations, economic development authorities and other audiences about the effects the investment will create.

"People are understanding that although Rochester will be the epicenter of DMC, all area communities will definitely benefit from it," as small towns surrounding Rochester are predicted to be stakeholders in the development of DMC. "They will have a big part in it because the people who come to our area for the jobs that will be created are going to live somewhere. Not all will live in Rochester. The question Spring Valley and other communities will need to answer is, 'Why will they choose to live in Spring Valley rather than someplace else?' I'll talk a lot about that."

Williams cautioned that the initiative will not provide a complete solution to all of the region's living standard problems, but will boost the local economy. "Some think DMC will solve all kinds of things, such as affordable housing, livable wages, recreation, learning environments, et cetera. What DMC will do is assist in making sure we have conversations about those things and many others. When I speak to the Spring Valley group, not only will I share with them what this can potentially mean for the area but also challenge them as to how they can become part of it."

Members of the public have expressed "excitement and concerns" to Williams. "The excitement comes from many of the things I've already discussed. The concerns - clearly the minority of comments by a long ways - have to do in adjusting to the physical and social impacts of this huge economic development effort. Will our fire departments adjust to more buildings and homes? Police adjustments? What about social service needs? What will happen to the schools, et cetera."

Agriculture will be affected by DMC, and Williams explained how those effects might relate to the region. "The price of farmland may rise, but most certainly the economy will be stronger, which should help everyone, regardless of the occupation. I sense a greater effort to buy and consume food products grown locally and that should not lessen as the population increases and the economy improves."

Williams's speaking engagements keep him very busy addressing Rochester organizations and traveling to towns such as Red Wing, Lake City, Winona, Austin, Albert Lea, Faribault and even to St. Paul. He's going to Kasson, Faribault again, Cannon Falls, coming back to Spring Valley and other places.

"It's exciting," he said. "This is a great opportunity that I have to go around this community and surrounding communities and talk about DMC. I suppose the challenge, if there really is one, is to portray as thoroughly as I can what this will mean to our region during the next 20 years." That said, he noted that there are rewards to being a spokesperson for a capital investment initiative, including "talking about it, planning for it, hearing the wonderful ideas that people have to make it even better than it was originally envisioned, watching it come together, realizing that we are in the very early crawling stage...we haven't even started to crawl well, let alone walk and eventually run."

Williams will "absolutely" be taking questions from banquet attendees, and encouraged anyone who wishes to learn about DMC on their own to go to http://dmc.mn/ and sign up for news and updates. DMC is also on Facebook. And he suggested interested parties may go to the Post Bulletin website and read the inserts they created for the past two Monday editions of the paper.

He concluded, "For the communities: don't be passive about this. Get involved and get a place at the table. I'll share my ideas on how they can do that."