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Lutgert College of Business in the News

This is the text of a front page story in the Fort Myers News-Press of May 14, 2010. The FGCU study referenced in the story was authored by Dr. Gary Jackson, director of LCOB's Regional Economic Research Institute.

Health care 'shining light' in Lee County's job market

Lee Memorial Health System an economic engine

FRANK GLUCK • • May 14, 2010

1:10 A.M. — It should not come as a surprise that Lee Memorial Health System is a big economic player in this region.

But just how big? A new Florida Gulf Coast University study claims the system had a $1 billion economic impact on Lee County’s last year — spending that led to 78 jobs in the community for every 100 people the system employs.

The estimates add weight to the growing statewide consensus that the health-care industry may be a key driver in Florida’s post-recession job market.

Closer to home, it is more evidence that Lee Memorial is one of this community’s top — and most stable — economic engines.

“Anecdotally, if you look around right now in terms of viable business enterprises that are still functioning reasonably well in this economic correction, the health-care industry does seem to be the one shining light on the landscape,” said Steve Tirey, president of The Chamber of Southwest Florida.

According to the study, local job growth attributable to the Lee Memorial Health System works like this: The system buys goods, builds facilities and pays its workers. That money, such as that spent by employees, creates demand for other community services, such as retail stores and real estate.

The system commissioned the report for $6,000.

The report did not compare the system to other local industries, but by comparison, tourism spending in Lee County is roughly $3 billion a year. Also, the system’s 9,000-plus employees makes it the county’s second-largest employer behind the Lee County School District.

Sally Jackson, system director of community projects, said the study is a good illustration of the system’s role in the community. She said it will soon be presented to community groups.

Other study findings:

  • $984 million was added countywide in additional wages, salaries, rent, dividends and profit income.
  • The system’s presence in the community led to 13,639 employees countywide
  • Health care in Lee county employs more than 26,000 — about 13.4 percent of all those employed in Lee in 2009.

“Although there are many challenges facing the health-care system and Lee Memorial Health System, their importance in the overall economy is expected to continue to grow,” wrote Gary Jackson, report author and director of FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute.

The average annual wage in health care and social assistance in Florida is about $43,000 (about $53,000 in hospitals). Wages for all other jobs average about $39,000.

Given those higher wages, health-care jobs tend to have a “multiplier effect” in the economy, such as job creation, said Arthur Rubens, associate professor of FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business.

And health care was one of the few bright spots in the state’s latest employment data.

That and private education were the only two industries seeing job growth (about 33,000) in March, the latest data available, according to the state Agency for Workforce Innovation.

A separate report by the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy found that health-care jobs grew by more than 5 percent during the past three years.

A recent Florida Hospital Association study found that the state’s hospitals provide an economic benefit of about $46 billion.

Health care will likely take on a growing role in the jobs market, given the collapse of the construction industry and the aging state population, said Alan Stonecipher, spokesman for the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

“As we slowly climb out of unemployment, health care is going to lead the way,” he said. “That’s not only to do with health-care reform, but we have an aging population.”

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