Candidate profile | George Rownd
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Rochester at this moment? If elected, what specific position(s) would you take to address the issue?
We need to find more people for all the jobs that need to be done. We have a shortage of workers right now and it will worsen without action. We need all kinds of workers — starter jobs, hospitality jobs, building trades, and medical workers. We should look at providing incentives for people to relocate to Rochester if they are coming here to work and build their economic future. I would look at all affordable housing solutions, not just rentals but also renovation of existing units that people can purchase for less money per month than rent.
Tell us one decision made by the city over the past two years that you disagree with. What would you like to see done differently?
We should have found a way to get the proposed Holiday Inn hotel across from St. Marys Hospital built. The developer needed help, as they usually do, especially with subway/skyway connections. These are reasonable public assets - and they are demanded by our customers, the medical patients and their families. This development would have provided good construction jobs, long-term employment for hotel workers, and a better experience for St. Mary’s patients — plus much larger future commercial property taxes paid by that site. These commercial property taxes help reduce the increase of residential property taxes - and that helps everyone.
The city is experiencing an economic boom. Still, many residents and business owners remain concerned about affordability. How would you work to ensure the city's growth is managed responsibly?
One of the best ways to keep things affordable is through competition. Competing businesses help keep prices down for consumers. As our commercial base expands, this also increases the commercial property taxes paid by businesses. As mayor, I would look to limit the tax increases on residential units. I would also look out for the business properties that are not being redeveloped — their taxes should not go up just because another property sold at a high price. It is critical that existing business survive through the DMC development, especially for their employees and customers.
Some cities have decided to take the lead on issues such as minimum wage and paid leave. Do you feel Rochester should be doing the same, or are these issues best left to the state and federal levels?
Rochester is a great place for the worker — a shortage of labor is driving up wages. There are not enough employees to go around. If you’re working for someone, and they are not treating you right, you can go find a better employer! This situation will exist for many years moving forward. I don’t think this needs a city mandate to help — in fact, such a one-size-fits-all approach might harm the people it’s intended to help. I do believe that if a person works full-time, they ought to be able to live independently and safely, and Rochester provides a great opportunity for this.
Destination Medical Center is focused on a relatively small chunk of the city. What initiatives or policies could be adopted to strengthen our neighborhoods outside the downtown?
Improvements in transportation would help all residents get around our busy town — this includes better busing options and maybe even elevated rail between the Mayo campuses. The increase in commercial property taxes will give us more dollars to maintain and improve our parks and expand our library. More money will also be available for our public schools. I also advocate a public/private renovation program for existing 4, 6, and 8-plexs, converting the units to condominiums and then selling them, often to the current renters — they can buy for much less than rent!
One key responsibility of mayor is serving on the Destination Medical Center Corporation Board. As the voice of Rochester residents, what would you bring to the position?
My focus on the DMC board is to reduce the impact of the construction and congestion on existing businesses, their employees, and customers. We need to be careful to not cause harm to the properties that are not being redeveloped. We need the existing businesses to get through the DMC construction process and continue to pay their employees and attract customers. Road closures and parking problems can be dealt with if they are priorities. We need the DMC projects to have a positive impact on all residents of Rochester, not just the investors.
There has been much discussion about the role of mayor; specifically, whether the mayor should be more involved in matters of city policy. If elected, how would you manage the office of mayor?
I don’t think the mayor needs more power — the office has a veto, and i would not be afraid to use it. I would work to build consensus and solve problems, and I would use the office to bring attention to waste, lack of transparency, and poor city council decisions. I see the office as a means for uniting people and focusing on what we have in common. I would look out for those impacted by our city plans and DMC plans, and try to reduce any negative impact.
What else should voters know about you?
I am a lifelong Rochester resident, and I’ve lived through the growth we’ve had over the last 50 years. I operated a number of small businesses in Rochester with over 300 employees. I spent 3 years on the Hospitality Minnesota Board of Directors, and 10 years on the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau Board, including 2 years as its President. I am a graduate of Lourdes High School and St. John’s University, and have been a commercial real estate broker for over 15 years.
You may remember me as the “Sports Expert” on KROC-AM radio.
I have experience with clients of all income levels and many different cultures. I have learned to listen to different viewpoints and find solutions. I do this everyday and I can help build consensus in Rochester. We have a tremendous economic future, and it will include challenges that I can help solve.
Leadership is not a top-down proposition. I don’t have a political ideology, or a strict political narrative. I see the mayor’s office as a public service post, and I would always treat it that way.
Primary elections are on Tuesday, August 14. You can use your address to view a sample ballot on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website.