As Leisure Care pushes forward with an East Coast expansion and prepares to open a 24-story senior living community in downtown Seattle, the company is also focusing on workforce development through a paid internship program called Discover.
As of 2018, Leisure Care was the 16th-largest senior living provider in the nation, with a portfolio of 44 communities. Yet, the company had no communities with a Seattle address, even though this is where the company is headquartered. The forthcoming highrise, called Murano, will change this situation.
Murano is located in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood and will offer independent living, assisted living and memory care on a rental model, with a retail component as well. The project is being undertaken in partnership with private equity firm Columbia Pacific Advisors, also based in Seattle and a longtime collaborator with Leisure Care. The community will be situated close to numerous amenities and health care providers, in a mixed-use approach that Leisure Care is generally favoring as it undertakes new development, CEO Dan Madsen told Senior Housing News.
Meanwhile, the Discover internship program already has graduated its first three participants and may become a more significant talent pipeline as Leisure Care expands its already sizable footprint.
Progress in the east and abroad
With its roots on the West Coast, Leisure Care made a move in 2017 to open its first communities on the East Coast. That expansion, to be accomplished through a mix of development and opportunistic acquisitions, is now well underway — a community in Raleigh, North Carolina opened about two weeks ago, another recently opened in Pennsylvania, and the company made an acquisition in Rochester, New York.
For 2019, Leisure Care plans to add eight East Coast communities in total — four acquisitions, four ground-up buildings — to bring its portfolio for that part of the country to 16. It is working with a variety of capital partners on these projects, including Columbia Pacific Advisors.
In addition, Leisure Care recently named Michael Juno as vice president of East Coast operations.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t trying to operate the East Coast communities from Seattle but had a good presence, senior leadership in the east,” Madsen told SHN. “Michael’s been with us for years and is prepared to lead that team on the East Coast.”
As is Leisure Care’s practice in other markets, the East Coast communities will have locally inspired designs, brands and operational models tweaked for specific local needs but unified under the company’s “five-star fun” approach.
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Growth is proceeding in other geographies as well, including in the United Kingdom and in Mexico. These projects are undertaken via Leisure Care’s parent company, One Eighty.
The Mexico projects are “small villages” with multifamily housing, age-restricted housing, single-family dwellings, boutique hotels and retail. In the U.K., One Eighty has a partnership with Elysian Residences to create highly amenitized, upscale senior living, with five sites under control and two under development.
Much closer to home — less than a mile away from Leisure Care’s offices in Seattle’s Wells Fargo Center — Murano is slated to open in August.
The luxury tower (renderings below) will offer panoramic views of downtown, Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. Amenities include an auditorium and theater, art studio, salon and spa, street-level retail, a concierge service, and travel planning via One Eighty’s travel agency, Twist. In addition, there are plans for wellness-focused spaces and programming, which Madsen views as a rising trend.
In the midst of this new development, Leisure Care’s stabilized portfolio has held up well in the last two years. Even as occupancy has declined on an industry-wide basis, Leisure Care’s stayed in the low-90% range, Madsen said, crediting the company’s experience in multiple cycles and a focus on the basics.
“We’ve been through enough cycles to know that what comes up goes down, and when you’ve got high occupancy, get it even higher to prepare,” he said. “Being proactive and keeping our buildings looking good, our hospitality high and value to the customer high helps us maintain occupancy through the down times.”
This consistent performance has enabled the company to contemplate new initiatives, in addition to the internship program. Madsen and other leaders have been closely evaluating Medicare Advantage opportunities and are considering new ventures for One Eighty, which in addition to doing real estate development and Twist Travel has a low-acid coffee business and an exercise program called PrimeFit.
The Discover program
Being proactive is a key value in terms of staffing as well, which is one reason why Leisure Care created the Discover internship program.
“We’re very focused on the front end and recruiting as early as we can,” Madsen said.
Leisure Care officially announced the program last week, but Discover launched on a small scale a year ago with three interns. Based on feedback from these interns, the program has been enhanced and is now ready for a wider rollout, Erin Mahin, Leisure Care business analyst and the creator of the program, told SHN.
All three of the initial interns have graduated from the program and have gone on to full-time roles with Leisure Care, two of them at communities and one at the home office. Currently, there are four interns enrolled in Discover, and Mahin anticipates participation to ramp up as the current school year ends. The program is designed for college students and recent graduates, and pays at minimum wage.
But beyond the pay, the program provides exposure to senior living — including in marketing, sales and general operations/business — and the possibility of going on to a full-time position.
“The program is well-rounded, meaning that the interns will get the opportunity to spend time in every department (housekeeping, serving, plant ops),” Mahin said. “They even get the chance to work with the GM on budgets.”
Recruitment and retention are frequently cited as the biggest challenges facing senior living providers today, given tight labor markets, rising wages, shortages of certain workers, and high rates of turnover throughout the industry.
Some providers have begun working more closely with colleges and universities to create a talent pipeline. But a big problem is that — despite the overall labor crunch — senior living companies don’t have positions available for this particular pool of educated but inexperienced applicants, according to Andrew Carle, who founded George Mason University’s senior housing program and is now getting a program off the ground at Georgetown University.
In the case of Leisure Care, interns might go on to take existing positions or ultimately carve out their own path at the company, Mahin said.
“Several people within Leisure Care have developed and worked toward new positions. For instance, this internship program is run by a couple of people who had a vision and are now running it,” she said. “The philosophy at the company is that you guide your path. So whether you start as an intern and move up or you come in with various abilities, you are rewarded for your vision and skills and into a variety of jobs whether at corporate or in the communities.”