City pushes medical campus districtThe city is rolling out a marketing strategy for the medical campus district that is anchored by Woodwinds Hospital in attempt to lure health-care providers to open clinics or medical device manufacturers in the area.
By: Scott Wente, Woodbury Bulletin
Woodbury officials say the ailing economy provides an opportunity to promote the city as a great place for medical businesses.
The city is rolling out a marketing strategy for the medical campus that is anchored by Woodwinds Hospital. Economic development officials want to lure health-care providers to open clinics or medical device manufacturers to establish their businesses.
The recession slowed commercial development, but those who are pushing to complete the medical campus on the city’s western border say they want to promote it ahead of an economic rebound. At the same time, they say the medical sector is one of the best-performing economic sectors, even in a recession.
“That is one area that does seem to have some life to it, from an economic perspective,” said Janelle Schmitz, Woodbury’s planning and economic development manager.
An Oct. 8 “Business Classic” event will serve as a kickoff for the medical campus marketing project. The city invited former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, a health care expert, to speak. Organizers hope Durenberger’s presence will attract doctors and medical executives.
Demographics favor growth
The medical district is bordered by I-494 to the southwest, Century Avenue to the west, Valley Creek Road to the north and Lake Road to the south. It was zoned commercial but earned a specific zoning designation in 2008 when the Woodbury City Council renamed it a medical campus district.
That decision came after a city-commissioned study concluded that the demand for medical services was growing, Woodbury’s demographics could support that development and the citshould zone an area for that purpose. The study was spurred by a developer’s interest to build a senior housing facility in the area.
A handful of small clinics and providers have followed the Woodwinds Health Campus to the area in recent years, but a larger medical project fell through. Fargo-based Prairie St. John’s, which operates a Woodbury clinic, sought to build a psychiatric hospital at the medical campus, but a statewide hospital moratorium was not lifted for the project.
There remain two undeveloped parcels in the district, along with a couple of houses that were grandfathered into the zoning district but eventually could be sold and could be redeveloped for a medical purpose, Schmitz said.
St. Paul-based JLT Group owns one of the two open parcels -- 10 acres to 15 acres – while Woodwinds parent organization Healtheast Care System owns the other site, a 15 acre to 20 acre lot.
Schmitz said the city hopes it can attract health clinics, medical specialty providers or even affiliated businesses such as medical labs or insurance processors to the area.
“There certainly are opportunities that may not be fully identified at this point,” she said.
Woodbury Economic Development Commission Chairman Roger Green said the city demonstrated “foresight” by pushing for medical-oriented development around Woodwinds.
Green, a vice president of Healtheast Care System, which operates Woodwinds, said that the economy has led to “some softening” in the medical services industry, but long-term forecasts suggest continued growth and demand. That is important because the campus development is expected to continue for perhaps several years.
‘Fine-tuned’ message needed
The city had to do little to attract retail and residential developers during the development boom, but other forms of commercial development did not occur as rapidly, said Bill Betten, president of the city’s Economic Development Authority.
“I think we’ve clearly identified we needed to fine-tune a message,” said Betten, an engineering director for medical device manufacturer Nonin Medical in Plymouth, Minn.
Organizers say they are still putting together the marketing strategy, but it will include promotion at regional business-related fairs, including one in Minneapolis in December. They want to make it easier for medical companies to learn about Woodbury on the city’s Web site, and they may use a direct-mail campaign to gain interest.
While the medical district is the focus of the marketing effort, there are other areas of the city that could be the site of new medical-related development.
Woodbury could present a compelling case to interested developers or medical professionals, Schmitz and Betten said. Its available commercial properties are near major highways; there are many highly educated doctors and medical professionals living in the city; and the blend of young families and a growing elderly population justify more specialty clinics and medical facilities.
“It’s kind of a recognition that we are a regional medical center out here,” Mayor Bill Hargis said. Medical campus development would mean the addition of good-paying jobs and an expanded tax base, he said.
Officials said development will not happen overnight.
“We need to be in for the long haul,” Betten said. “It won’t be something that we measure in terms of months; it’s a year-long process to get this going.”