Aegis Targets ‘Dramatic’ Potential in Second Chinese Niche Development

Taking hold of two senior housing trends simultaneously, one senior living operator has found a tried-and-true approach to niche development—and it’s ready for round two.

The operator, Redmond, Washington-based Aegis Living, is scheduled to break ground this week on its second Aegis Gardens community, an assisted living community in the United States that is geared directly toward the Chinese American population in and around Seattle, Washington as well as Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, Oregon. By focusing on the booming Chinese demographic many developers have tried to tap into, as well as the domestic trend toward niche communities, Aegis is targeting both at once for what its CEO calls “dramatically” different outcomes.

Take, for example, the census at the first Aegis Gardens community, developed by Aegis in 2001. There, the community’s census outpaces the census across its 30-property portfolio, tallying between 97% and 98% occupancy since it opened. It also has fewer falls—about two per year—and a greater resident life expectancy: 40 months on average versus an industry average around 26 months.

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Aegis Gardens Activities Building
Aegis Gardens Activities Building

“The differences are dramatic,” Aegis Founder and CEO Dwayne Clark tells SHN. “Acuity is lower, residents are healthier. They’re more active. They eat different, more healthy food.”

Staff turnover is 28% versus 45% across the rest of Aegis’s portfolio.

But despite the opportunity a niche community presents, and the success Aegis and others have had in marketing to and building for a distinct ethnic population, the company says it’s taking a calculated approach to niche development.

In fact, the $50 million, 110-unit development comes nearly 15 years after the company first explored this niche in senior living.

“[We have been asked to] come to China and build 100 of these communities,” Clark says. “That’s not the kind of company we are. The last 14 years have been a laboratory for us.”

The potential

Aegis is not building in just any market. It’s targeting a population of roughly 90,000 Chinese Americans who currently live within 25 miles of the community site, in Newcastle, Washington, near Seattle.

The community’s offerings, from Tai Chi to regular Mahjong gatherings (Clark says at any given time in the existing Aegis Gardens community, there are as many as 25 people playing Mahjong), vary from a typical Aegis community. Even the construction of its kitchen will be different to allow for a vast prep station for chopping vegetables, rather than a traditional line setup used by chefs in other communities.

And the buzz around the community’s opening has garnered the interest of many. At press time, Aegis had confirmed 240 attendees expected at the groundbreaking later this week. It counts among its board members and advisors a host of politicians, academics and experts in Chinese culture.

“We’re building this great building, but the key for us is we don’t want this to be a Chinese old folks home,” Clark says. “We want it to be an epicenter of Chinese culture.”

That has prompted plans that include a child care center, spa, different Chinese dining options, and an amiptheater that is open to the public. There will be gardens and exercise equipment that appeal not only to the resident population, but the area’s Chinese population overall.

But despite the interest, Aegis says it won’t be building 10 Aegis Gardens communities a year. Instead it will take a measured approach.

“There are no other niches [we’re entering],” Clark says. “There’s a tremendous amount of energy, knowledge and intellectual capital that goes into doing this. Is there an opportunity to do more? Absolutely. Could it be a separate company? It absolutely could.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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