What a difference a year makes.

This month, more than 30 senior living executives representing 22 leading providers gathered for the Ninth Annual Ziegler Greystone Executive Symposium (ZGES). One of the highlights of each Symposium is the report on a general survey taken of attendees. This survey explores where organizations currently stand, where they plan to go in the future, and general attitudes and outlooks regarding the senior living industry.

When surveyed this year, 73 percent of that group described themselves as “more optimistic” about the current economy than they were a year earlier. By comparison, only 56 percent were “more optimistic” when asked the same question on the 2011 survey.

That idea of a turning tide permeated the entire event, which took place March 7-9 at the Westin Kierland in Scottsdale, Ariz.

When asked about plans for growth in 2011, more attendees selected “new service lines within existing communities” than any other category. At this year’s Symposium, “redevelopment of an existing campus” overtook new service lines as the most selected growth/change tactic.

But concerns remain, despite the optimism and renewed interest in redevelopment. The residential real estate market continues to be the greatest threat in the minds of respondents, with operating costs a close second. According to the survey, providers are also concerned about finding pre-finance capital and meeting capital market requirements for permanent financing – no surprise given the new environment in which these organizations are operating.

The Symposium is geared to address timely, relevant topics just like these. The event’s opening session painted a picture of how the senior population has grown and will continue to grow in the coming decades – between 2010 and 2030, the number of 75-and-older households is projected to grow by 70.6 percent. But the pace of new community development, slowed by the economic crisis, has failed to keep up with senior population growth. A second-day session focused on this issue, exploring growth capital, capital market expectations and the many different ways in which development plans can and are moving forward despite more conservative financing requirements.
With these requirements in mind, a marketing presentation examined how to create a positive financial impact in the assisted living, memory support and skilled nursing levels of care. Not only is the senior population growing, these seniors are also living longer – by 2030, the number of 85 year olds will increase more than 50 percent, and the number of 100 years olds will nearly triple. This growth presents an opportunity for CCRCs, one only heightened in importance by today’s capital market requirements.

A number of providers from across the country shared case studies from their communities. Bruce Shogren of Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America served as one of this year’s presenters. He attends the ZGES on an annual basis, mostly for the opportunity to interact with his peers in a small, intimate setting.

“There are different challenges between East and West Coast and the Midwest,” Shogren said. “We have a bunch of smaller communities, and (others here are) large, but you still have to finance them. You pick some things up from them, they pick some things up from you, and that’s the best part.”
Justine Vogel of RiverWoods, a network of continuing care retirement communities in New Hampshire, is another regular attendee. The ZGES serves as an opportunity for her to spend time looking beyond everyday operations.

“We spend so much of our time as operators on the daily stuff,” she said. “This is just two days of thinking about the big picture, where the industry is going and trying to mesh that with where we want to go.”

The Symposium’s final session addressed positioning strategies during economic recovery. Ron Jennette of Methodist Retirement Communities shared his organization’s challenges and successes over the past five years. “I have been (to the ZGES) several times, and I have never yet sat down in a session that I didn’t learn something valuable and meaningful,” he said. “This is a great chance for me to take something back to my organization.”

If the ZGES survey results are any indication, education and sharing new ideas has never been more important – nine out of 22 respondents indicated they will need to address executive succession in the next five years.

That’s what the ZGES has always been about – getting some of the industry’s providers together in a small setting to discuss all things senior living and to learn from each other.

See photos of the 2012 ZGES in the gallery below.


ZGES web 1 ZGES web 2 ZGES web 3 ZGES web 4 ZGES web 5