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Wave of the Future - and Present

The rush of baby boomers and retirees into Southwest Florida bodes well for niche businesses, large scale stalwarts and the economy.

After three decades in interior design, Karen Benson can spot a good fit from a mile away.

Or, in one instance, 1,500 miles. When the Fort Myers resident got a tip from a family friend in Toronto about a business model that helps seniors downsize from large homes, she figured she’d found another muse.

“It was a very chance meeting at a family gathering. I was talking to someone who’d heard of the business up north and she suggested I look into it. She thought it would be good,” Benson says. “I thought about it and got some information, and from there it just clicked. I knew it was for me.”

Just a few months after the impromptu conception, Inspire Transitions was born, joining numerous other Southwest Florida enterprises that provide senior related services, ranging from housekeeping to transportation to simple companionship. Those ventures complement much larger operations, including existing and planned retirement communities, hospice organizations and healthcare conglomerates, whose success gets better with age.

In Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, 26.5 percent of the population was 65 and older in 2011, compared with 17.6 percent statewide. The wave of baby boomers and retirees hitting Southwest Florida promises a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs and big business, as well as major economic potential—such as jobs—for the region, which is still reeling from a housing crisis and high unemployment.

“We have a competitive advantage because of the climate,” says Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute and assistant professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University. “It’s always going to make this a desirable place to be, because of the recreational options and the fact that it’s just not as cold as other places. That gets tougher on people the older they get, so they want to get away from it.”

Places to Call Home

Construction of large-scale senior communities is mushrooming in Southwest Florida, with at least four projects under way or planned. They will join those that have served the market for several years, including the venerable Shell Point Retirement Community.

Within steps of the Caloosahatchee River and a few miles from the causeway bridge toward Sanibel Island, the sprawling 800-acre complex houses 2,300 residents and employs 950 workers within three residential neighborhoods, two medical centers and an 18-hole golf course, among other amenities. Shell Point is the state’s largest nonprofit continuing-care retirement community according to the 2012 LeadingAge Ziegler 100, which lists facilities in order of their totalowned market-rate units.

Its president, Peter Dys, who marked his 27th anniversary with the company on Aug. 1, says Shell Point and similar developments support an environment conducive to the physical and mental well-being of a population segment often shunned by others.

“We as a society are so age-biased,” he says. “We don’t even want to be around older people. We haven’t dealt with our own aging process. We want to ignore it. We want it to go away. We try to make old people look young, and there’s nothing uglier.”

Dys’ neatly kept office is home to packed bookshelves and award plaques, in addition to a host of overhead photographs, postcards and drawings illustrating the complex’s step-by-step growth from Shell Point’s opening day in 1968. That’s when it was founded as a retirement center for personnel from the Colorado-based Christian and Missionary Alliance, which has been its sole owner for 44 years.

Shell Point brands itself as a 60-plus community and has 300 residents who are 90 years or older and 14 who have reached 100. The bulk of the current residents are between 76 and 84, and its longest-term resident has been there for 29 years.

Dys says the facility can accommodate more than 4,000 residents, if the market warrants.

In 2010, 3.1 percent of the national 65-plus population— comprising more than 1.25 million—was in a skilled nursing facility. Looking toward the next few decades, Dys expects expansion on Shell Point’s grounds and a more discerning crop of residents, as more of the post-World War II “baby boom” generation— defined by the Census Bureau with birth years ranging from 1946 to 1964—reaches its 60s.

“[The baby boomers] are going to be a real challenge. They’re a different type of clientele than what we’ve ever seen,” he says. “They come out of that baby boom mentality. They’re the [19]70s group of individuals. They’re not as concerned with what you offer as what they want, and you’ve got to be very sensitive to what it is they’re looking for.”

Shell Point offers prospective residents three contract options, which vary by the levels of included health care and the ability of the resident to cancel the agreement. Entry costs range from $90,100 to $551,000 depending on floor plan, with additional monthly fees from $1,196 to $4,783.

Most residents are “second retirees,” or people who moved to Lee County within the last five to eight years before transitioning to Shell Point. The portion of Lee County’s population that’s both age- and income-qualified for Shell Point is expected to grow by 22.5 percent in the next five years, he says, and the existing residential units at the complex are 98 percent sold.

“They’re looking for lifestyle,” Dys says. “They want to use that boat. They’re looking forward to playing golf. They want to be educated. They want to learn. They want to be able to serve. That’s the building of an infrastructure internally [here] that creates lifestyle. That’s why we say this is a lifestyle providing life care. I just think that’s a huge value.”

Blueprint for Success

From the building industry’s perspective, the surge in healthcare- related services is profit waiting to happen.

“We’ve been doing quite a bit of work in healthcare and assisted living,” says Jay Waltbillig, principal/vice president of Naples-based DeAngelis Diamond Construction. “I hope it’s a trend. We feel like there is more activity with more owners and developers, and I think the need there is great enough that we’re going to be seeing future developments.”

Locally, DeAngelis Diamond has begun work at Discovery Village at the Forum, a 112,000-square foot assisted-living facility near the Colonial Boulevard exit off Interstate 75 in Fort Myers; it’s expected to open in October. Elsewhere, core structures were recently completed at the Terraces at Bonita Springs— on U.S. 41—that is set to open next summer, and the Moorings Park retirement community in Naples is undergoing a $63-million expansion.

Yet another retirement community project, the Arlington of Naples—built jointly by Mississippi-based W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. and GATES of Naples—will open in 2015.

“It’s a business opportunity, no question,” Waltbillig says. “There’s a market for it if developers can find financing. That seems to be the key. Two or three years ago there were developers interested, but there was no source for lending. It seems now, through the latest inquiries that we get, that the financing is loosening.”

Satisfying a Niche

The so-called “silver tsunami” that’s heading to Southwest Florida offers a host of opportunities for entrepreneurs such as Benson. “It makes perfect sense for us to start here,” says Benson, who officially launched Inspire Transitions on Nov. 1, 2011. “This is where seniors move.”

And if she has her way, with age will come workload. “It’s gone well so far and it’s getting better,” she says. “It took about six months for people to start to know that we existed, because it’s a fairly new industry. So the main way we’ve gotten business is through relationships we’ve developed, and by networking with people.”

Upon meeting a new client, Benson and her team— comprising employees from the design business she founded as an 18-year industry vet in 1996—sit down to assess exactly how much stuff has amassed over the years. Using their collective design expertise, they counsel the person and participating family members on what should be taken and what’s best left behind.

Once the thinning is complete and a mover is hired to transport items to the new residence (usually a smaller house, a senior living community or a nursing home), Benson’s team rejoins the process on the back end to design the new space in as familiar a manner as possible.

Her rates, which depend on home size and the range of services needed, usually run between $2,000 and $4,000. Industry accreditation as a “certified relocation and transition specialist” (which Benson has) is available, but not required, and a national membership framework has been established by the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

Shell Point Retirement Community, which now houses 2,300 residents on an 800-acre property, can accommodate more than 4,000 if the market warrants.

“We’ll go in and unpack boxes and set up the kitchens and dressers like they’ve always looked, right down to their phone and their glasses being in the same spot,” she says. “It really is a natural offshoot for us. We hang their artwork, too, and, as designers, we’re accustomed to listening to what people want and then coming up with the best look for them.”

When it comes to finding opportunities in the retirement realm, conceiving of a brainchild is not necessary because there are franchises available, like the one Connie Gwin has invested in. Gwin was born and raised in Philadelphia, and, while fruitlessly searching her new home state of Florida for a good cheesesteak sandwich, she’s found significant success launching a business based on a concept she’d learned about up north.

She co-owns the Fort Myers franchise of Seniors Helping Seniors, an in-home services provider for older people in the area, with much of the work done by other seniors who’ve expressed a willingness to “help each other live better.” The local entity is unique to the others in the state—seven on the Atlantic coast and one in the Tampa suburb of Dunedin—in that it supplements homemaker and companion services with customized personal-care and skilled nursing offerings.

After many years in the fashion industry, Gwin was looking for a change of workplace scenery. And once she and business partner Nancy Zelden discovered and learned more about the Reading, Pa.-based company, she says, “We knew the search was over.”

Gwin says her location now employs more than 100 independent contractors as homemaker-companions and 30 or so more as aides and nurses to facilitate services. She expects her company will grow significantly in the coming years, especially serving residents who’ve relocated to Florida and don’t have vast family ties in the area.

Most of the local workers are seniors, though Gwin says that some of the more-physical jobs are handled by younger staff. Clients can request services 24/7, and normal visits are a minimum of two hours in length.

Routine services include companion care, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, meal preparation and transportation, while aides and nurses are able to provide bath visits, medication management, mobility assistance and wound care. Prices on a company provided rate sheet range from $15 to $50 per hour, or $25 to $75 per visit, depending on the nature of the work requested.

Nationally, personal-care aides (34.5 percent projected growth through 2020) and home-health aides (26.8 percent projected growth) were Nos. 1 and 2 on a list of fastest-growing jobs compiled earlier this year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Third on the list, with a projected growth of 25.9 percent, were healthcare practitioners and technical occupations.

The bureau’s median wages for the three positions are $24,760, $20,640 and $58,490, respectively.

Gwin expects a bright financial outlook for the business, but she is quick to caution that money ought to not be the primary motivation for those seeking a similar line of work.

“Based on our demographics, we will never run out of people to provide our services or people in need of our services,” she says. “Many people think that the senior in-home care business is a gold mine. In reality it would depend on your motivation.

“If you are looking to help others and fall asleep with a smile on your face knowing you helped even one senior, then you indeed have had a lucrative day. I love what I do and would not trade it for the world.”

Economic Expansion

From his desk at FGCU, Jackson sees a bigger picture. The 30-year economics expert anticipates the state in general—and Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties, in particular—will remain fertile ground for senior-centric entrepreneurs and businesses. Or, in Kevin Costnerspeak from his movie Field of Dreams, build it and they will come.

To Jackson, population patterns create a perpetual economic boom. “It varies from year to year,” he says, “but there’s been a historic inflow of [senior] population here that creates a broad range of jobs and a huge demand for services.”

That spike in usage translates to jobs locally, where major organizations like Lee Memorial Health System, NCH Healthcare System, Peace River Regional Medical Center and Hope HealthCare Services employ anywhere from 1,000 to upwards of 10,000.

It’s predicted that employment numbers will continue to rise along with the older demographic.

The job category of health diagnosing and treating practitioners is forecast for a 3.05-percent rise in Collier, Charlotte, Lee, Glades and Hendry counties from 2011 to 2019, according to Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity. Almost 800 local openings are anticipated annually, nearly twothirds of them due to growth as opposed to separations.

Specifically, employment for home health aides is expected to swell by 5.16 percent over the same time period, with 84 percent of that rise attributable to job growth.

The in-migration of current or soon-to-be retirees also means more work for builders like DeAngelis Diamond, which in the last three years has completed more than $80 million in healthcare projects nationwide. And its internal healthcare group was spun into a subsidiary company and added an office in Birmingham, Ala., to better serve its growing national client roster.

To Dys, the mere presence of the senior population creates both a need for healthcare facilities, and a mandate for them to be of the highest quality.

“People might say, ‘You’ve got all these old people and they’re using our streets and they’re using our hospitals,’ but you can look at the other side and say, ‘They’re paying all our taxes and they’re covering all the costs and they’re not having any kids in the schools and all those kinds of things,’” Dys says. “That’s what having seniors creates.”

Discovery Village at the Forum, an assistedliving facility, is set to open in Fort Myers in October 2013 and will employ more than 100.


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