Ness’s vision is something we can all see

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It’s one thing to put major corporations’ mighty mission statements up on a screen, particularly when they’re absurdly optimistic — yet come true.

But it’s quite another thing when you lead a local group of people down a similarly optimistic path and become so much more than even some of your longest tenured employees and local stalwarts ever thought possible.

That’s what Jon Ness has done with Kootenai Health. Arriving in Coeur d’Alene as the recession roared and unemployment was at 12 percent — it’s under 3 percent now — Ness took on what many would have considered an impossible task.

Now 63, the CEO rebranded the hospital and led an unprecedented expansion project that continues today. All of that — the building, the massive increase in employee base, the numerous awards for excellence — has been documented in this newspaper and its business journal. But what Ness unleashed last Monday was something that rivaled the masterful mission he had in mind when he arrived here in 2010.

It’s this: A plan to bring our talented treasures home.

Yes, our kids.

The only way we’re going to do that, Ness and other visionaries in our community agree, is by building a stronger core of good jobs. And nowhere is the need greater or the potential more exciting than in health care. Kootenai County is at the top of the chart in attracting Baby Boomers, who want to enjoy all the bounties of this beautiful place while knowing their medical needs will be well tended. It seems a match made in North Idaho heaven.

What will it take to bring the kids and grandkids back? Well, Monday’s massive meeting was a solid start. Ness used Rochester, Minn., as a comparable market to Kootenai County — they’re almost identical population-wise. But what Rochester has is Mayo, the most esteemed medical organization on the planet.

The Mayo Clinic and its branches in Rochester provide 35,000 good to great jobs, boasting 10 times the number of employees than at Kootenai Health.

If it’s wild or even absurd to dream that KH could someday, with the full support of the larger community, come close to replicating what Rochester has done and intends to do in the coming years, keep something in mind. When Mayo started in Rochester over a century ago, it’s likely nobody saw it ascending to the peak of the health care mountain, and when Jon Ness started in Coeur d’Alene almost a decade ago, it’s certain many folks had no idea he’d take the organization so far, so fast.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve built a Kroc Center that’s the envy of the nation. Duane Hagadone created one of the finest resorts on Earth along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, a mile or so from where he grew up. Nothing should be ruled about because we’ve crushed the odds before and are capable of doing it again.

Rochester, the race is on.

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