The slow housing market and downshift in senior living sales are quickly becoming things of the past. Today, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are moving forward with renewed energy.

This growing momentum was the theme at last month’s 10th Annual Ziegler Greystone Executive Symposium. The Symposium is an intentionally small gathering of senior living executives. This year, executives and board members from nearly 30 providers attended to discuss new strategies for this encouraging environment. Many shared examples of what they are doing.

“The CCRC business really had a good year in 2012,” said Greystone CEO John Spooner. “And all of the underlying comfort we got from an improving housing market, from rising occupancy, from a better environment overall, did create a sense that we’re on a better and longer path.”

One of the highlights of each Symposium is a survey taken of attendees. This year’s results demonstrated the on-hand providers’ desire to take action. Seventy-five percent of the survey’s respondents said their mindset in relation to the current economy is “more optimistic” than one year ago. Of the 20 organizations to respond, 95 percent are expecting to expand, 65 percent to add a new service line and 60 percent to redevelop an existing campus.

Why now? Certainly the economy is a factor. So too are the compelling demographics that indicate a growing demand for senior living. Justine Vogel, president and CEO of RiverWoods, a continuing care provider in Exeter, N.H., spoke during one session about taking action to maintain the organization’s position in a competitive market.

That increasingly competitive environment was also a common theme. The senior population is growing, but senior living development slowed during the financial crisis. That shortfall has created a window of opportunity for providers to serve growing and new markets. Survey respondents listed competition as the No. 1 threat — followed by operating costs second and the real estate market third. Ninety percent of respondents expect for-profits to move into their respective market spaces.

“You can expect the for-profit market to be growing and starting to grow very aggressively, heavily motivated by demographics,” said Dan Hermann, senior managing director of Ziegler’s senior living finance group.

The non-profits are growing, too, if the providers at the Symposium are any indication.

“Every organization in this room is currently either embarking upon some great change or project, or is seriously considering taking on a new initiative,” said Greystone President Mark Andrews during the Symposium’s opening session.

The Symposium’s 10 sessions focused primarily on different considerations for exploring new opportunities. WellStar’s Lou Little spoke about health care reform and accountable care organizations (ACOs) and how CCRCs can play a pivotal role while also building their businesses. Suzanne Pugh of Aldersgate and Lisa Israel of La Posada spoke about planning, and Al Jahner of El Castillo joined Justine Vogel for a discussion of executing on strategic plans. Greystone and Ziegler team members also spoke on a variety of topics, including redevelopment, availability of financing, creating comparative market advantage and board-management relationships.

The board-management relationship will be especially important moving forward. Survey results show that 40 percent of organizations will address executive succession in the next five years. The ability of board members to assist with the transition of new leaders will be a growing challenge for the industry.

The Ziegler Greystone Executive Symposium has served through the last 10 years as an opportunity for providers to gather, learn and share their experiences. No matter the environment in a given year, ideas on change, adaptation and growth are always at the forefront of providers’ minds.

See photos from the 10th Annual Ziegler Greystone Symposium in the gallery below.