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Best Cities 2010: Rochester, Minn.

Heading north on Route 63, about the time you pass the water tower painted to look like an ear of corn, the Rochester skyline shoots up from the Minnesota horizon. The city is growing like a beanstalk -- a high-tech, health-care, hospitality beanstalk.

Of course, it’s home to the Mayo Clinic, the world-renowned research center and hospital, and the city has built on Mayo’s rock-solid foundation. The synergy among the city’s resources has been well cultivated and is paying dividends, says Gary Smith, president of Rochester Area Economic Development. “Let me tell you, we are in a place where the rubber meets the road.”

Take, for instance, the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, formed in 2003 between Mayo and the University of Minnesota at Rochester to spawn new businesses. More than 20 technology-related firms have opened up in Rochester over the past ten years. The university is also planning an expansion to their downtown campus, going from about 450 students currently to 5,000 students within the next 20 years.

Recognizing the depth of resources in the area, the city opened the Minnesota BioBusiness Center in spring 2009 -- providing room to grow in the form of 150,000 feet of office space. The center, located a block from both the Mayo Clinic and the university, represents the city’s aspiration to build an even stronger bioscience and medical-research community. “If there’s a theme to what we’re doing here, it’s collaboration,” said Smith.

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Rochester also welcomes about 2.7 million visitors every year -- pouring $520 million into the economy, supporting the city’s hospitality industry and filling up its thousands of hotel rooms. Many of the visitors are Mayo patients from across the country and around the world.

The result is a community of great hosts and hostesses. Rochester’s mayor, Ardell Brede, is proud of his community’s welcoming way. “The other day a woman came up to me and said, ‘You have a such a wonderful city, when I ask someone for directions, more often than not, they offer to walk me there themselves,’ ” he said. (That’s a phenomenon I experienced during my own visit -- more than once.) To entertain its guests and residents, the city offers 60 miles of bike trails, more than 100 parks, and a civic center that attracts regional and national conferences and entertainment. And almost everything is accessible by skyway and underground walkways connecting many of the hospital, hotel, and retail buildings -- a near-necessity during Minnesota winters. There are public art projects scattered throughout the city, and a huge art-glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly is installed in the Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building. It all traces back to the Mayo brothers, the founders of the clinic, and their belief in the healing properties of art.

VIDEO: Take a Guided Tour of Rochester

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