Published on March 28, 2018

Essentia’s Duluth campus plan spurs visionary economic development partnership for the Northland Region

Essentia Health and other business, labor and community groups have stepped up to advance a major community and economic development initiative for Duluth and the Northland region.  Dubbed “Vision Northland,” the initiative is grounded in a real estate and workforce development strategy to leverage a major private investment by Essentia Health and others in downtown Duluth to achieve positive fiscal, economic and social impacts for the State of Minnesota, St. Louis County and City of Duluth. 

The strategy calls for the creation of a Medical District through a public–private partnership. This includes a public investment of $184 million in necessary civic infrastructure projects to support a projected $1.5 billion in new private development in downtown Duluth over the next 15 to 20 years.  With approximately $2 billion in net new taxes generated for the state, the county and the city over that time frame, the public investment would yield better than a 10:1 return to the public sector.  The initiative would also help solve the looming workforce shortage in Northern Minnesota, where retiring Baby Boomers will leave tens of thousands of jobs vacant in the coming years. 

In addition, St. Louis County ranks near the bottom of all Minnesota counties in health outcomes, along with low rankings in health behaviors and socioeconomic factors.  Vision Northland will include a focus on health and wellness – improving the health factors that contribute to a better quality of life and overall health.   

A major champion of the initiative is Essentia Health, the largest employer north of the Twin Cities metropolitan area and headquartered in Duluth.  “When Essentia embarked on its strategic planning effort to positively impact the way care is delivered at our hospitals and clinics and to enhance the patient and staff experience, we knew our investment in Duluth could catalyze many positive changes in the city and other regional communities we serve,” says Essentia Health CEO David C. Herman, MD.  “We intend to make a significant investment in our people and our facilities, and we want to encourage other partners – public and private – to step up and help us make a healthy difference in the lives of people and in the economy of the Northland.”

“Vision Northland will help Essentia and other businesses attract, train and retain outstanding employees,” says Essentia’s East Market President Daniel A. Nikcevich, MD, PhD.  “With a focus on investing in public infrastructure and new private development in Duluth’s downtown medical district, the initiative will also improve the availability, affordability and quality of care for the region.” 

A bipartisan bill is working its way through the legislative process at the State Capitol that would authorize the annual appropriations and additional local authority necessary to finance the civic infrastructure. Positive conversations with lawmakers during committee meetings indicate growing support for the initiative. The Essentia campus project and the infrastructure projects are expected to create 5,800 construction jobs in downtown Duluth. 

“We hope Essentia’s new facilities will serve as an anchor of the broader economic development effort to strengthen Duluth and the entire Northeastern Minnesota region,” Dr. Herman adds.