Jimmy Yancey on new Mercer Med School: ‘I would rank it up there with getting Pratt & Whitney to come to Columbus’

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A new Mercer University Medical School in Columbus moved one step closer to reality Thursday morning during a ceremonial ground-breaking.

And it drew Georgia’s top politicians, who made the state a partner in the deal.

The school is being built along the Chattahoochee River just north of the downtown TSYS campus on land given to the school by Global Payments.

The Mercer school will be just north of the TSYS campus and will be ready late next year or early 2022. The first class starts next fall.

It’s not every day you get Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Speaker of the House David Ralston show up together outside of Atlanta.

“I will tell you just from the lobbying and policy argument put up here, it was pretty powerful,” Kemp said.

How big a deal is this? Retired Synovus Chairman Jimmy Yancey has been involved in Columbus economic development for more than 50 years.

“I would rank it up there with getting Pratt & Whitney to come to Columbus, which was one of the biggest announcements we ever made in the history of Columbus back in 1983,” Yancey said. “So, yeah I think it’s a big deal.”

Pratt & Whitney has been an economic engine for nearly four decades, creating hundreds of jobs.

Mercer has had third- and fourth-year medical school students in Columbus for some time working in the local hospitals. But this takes that to the next level with a full med school here.

They will graduate 60 doctors a year. They will be Georgia students committed to working in under-served areas.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but the city of Macon has 130 more doctors than we do,” said Rep. Richard Smith, one of the people who helped bring the school to Columbus. “Well, it’s because of Mercer Med School over in Macon.”

Smith, King & Spalding attorney Pete Robinson, First Baptist Church pastor Jimmy Elder and the late Tom Black were the four who pitched the idea to Mercer President Bill Underwood a decade ago.

The first step was to get Mercer second and third-year medical students here. That happened more than seven years ago. The medical school was the final piece of the puzzle.

The Mercer Medical School was announced in April 2019. The plan has changed over the last 16 months. Mercer went from renovating an old Synovus building on Sixth Avenue to the new riverfront campus.

The land was given to the university by Global Payments, the company that acquired TSYS a year ago.

More than $15 million dollars in private money was raised in Columbus. That along with $9.3 million from the state of Georgia made the school possible.

Retired W.C. Bradley Co. Chairman Steve Butler was one of the many who donated the cause. He said that when you are approached about a project like this, there is only one answer.

“Some things you have to think hard about. This was easy,” Butler said. “Columbus will be far better off going forward with Mercer as a partner and a community asset than ever before.”

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