MT. COMFORT — Health care today, bustling business sector tomorrow.

That’s the vision behind Hancock Health’s latest expansion taking place near Interstate 70 and Mt. Comfort Road. It isn’t just a new facility, but the cornerstone of an economic development campaign in the area. Driven in part by a desire to create a Hancock County destination, efforts are under way to market the 140-acre site across the nation.

Hancock Health plans to use about 24 acres of the site for a medical campus. Zoning for the remainder of the area is split into various use standards, including those pertaining to corporate, retail, hospitality, education and open space preserving natural outdoor features.

Rob Matt, senior vice president of Hancock Regional Hospital and CEO of the Hancock Physician Network, is transitioning to a new role of leading the development of the site. He’s been interviewing companies to help Hancock Health market the rest of the area and hopes to have a decision within the next month or two.

“It’s not a local or necessarily only a regional play, it’s kind of a national play,” Matt said. “There’s a mile of Interstate 70. That’s not something that locally somebody’s going to want to necessarily buy, but it’s quite likely that some national company would like to reside on I-70, so we need to get exposure to a national audience. There are firms that help you do that.”

Matt said Hancock Health’s strategic plan in late 2016 and early 2017 drove the health care provider westward, where most of the county’s growth is occurring. When he and his colleagues looked at the area near I-70 and Mt. Comfort Road, they saw potential for more than just expanding health care services.

“Why doesn’t Hancock County have a destination, something that pulls people to it?” Matt said. “We don’t have anything, really.”

Hancock Health saw an opportunity to advance both itself and the rest of the county, he continued.

“Economic development in Hancock County benefits the county and benefits the hospital,” he said. “More rooftops, more people, more need for health care — is a good thing.”

The vision for Gateway was born.

Steve Long, president and CEO of Hancock Health and Hancock Regional Hospital, addressed the site’s future at Gateway’s ribbon-cutting on Thursday.

“You’re going to see all kinds of things spring up on this land over the next many years,” Long told the crowd filling the facility’s lobby.

Jenn Cox, business services director at Gateway Hancock Health, echoed Matt’s and Long’s notions in a news release.

“We hope that in the future, when you come for your lab or imaging needs, a sports physical or a flu shot, that you could get your dry-cleaning done, maybe grab a bite to eat, or enjoy a beautiful walking trail,” Cox said. “We’re ecstatic about the future of health care and look forward to meeting the growing needs of our patients now and into the future.”

Matt also described the plans as a good investment for Hancock Health.

“That ground is going to do nothing but get of more value,” he said. “We’re in a position to do that. Instead of putting our money in the bank and in the equity funds, we decided let’s put it in real estate, and that’s a perfect place to put it.”

Ideally, the developments that follow will support health care in some way, Matt said. For example, if a large company moves its corporate headquarters to the site and Hancock Health is nearby to offer employee medical and wellness plans, an immediate care center and physician practices, “everybody wins there as well,” Matt said.

Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, commended Hancock Health’s foresight. The site’s future “will change the face of the entire Mt. Comfort Corridor,” Sorrell told the Daily Reporter in an email.

“Their new facility will cause people to our west to look east for their health care needs, and I can see it being a magnet for all sorts of development in the future,” he added.
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