5th annual The Compass Conference to focus on area medical sector

The 5th annual The Compass Conference will be held April 17 and will feature an update on economic conditions – based on data from The Compass Report – in the Fort Smith metro area during 2013 and future opportunities and challenges of the regional medical sector.

The luncheon event is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., April 17 and will held at the Hennessy Center inside Mercy Fort Smith hospital (see map at bottom of story). Seating is limited, and tickets are $35 each, or a table of 10 for $325. To reserve a seat or table, contact Daelene Brown (dbrown@thecitywire) or Kathy Reed (kreed@thecitywire.com) by e-mail or phone (242-2800).

THE COMPASS REPORT
The conference is part of The Compass Report, which is the only independent economic analysis of Arkansas’ top three metro areas (Central Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith region). The report, produced and managed by The City Wire, measures four leading and four current economic indicators to provide a grade for a regional economy. Fort Smith-based Benefit Bank has been the primary sponsor of the report for five years, and Cox Communications has been a secondary sponsor.

Regional economic conditions began to improve in 2013, according to the report issued for the third quarter of 2013. Slight but continued improvements in economic trends for the Fort Smith region during the third quarter of 2013 has resulted in the best quarterly grade for the economy since the first quarter 2009 launch of The Compass Report. A third quarter 2013 grade of C+ was improved over the C in the second quarter and the C- in the third quarter of 2012.

Economist Jeff Collins, who conducts the data collection and analysis for The Compass Report, said employment and other data indicate that the Fort Smith region “has performed reasonably well” during the first three quarters of 2013. However, Collins said the improvements will need to continue if the region is to return to employment levels seen prior to the recession.

MEDICAL SECTOR FORUM
A panel discussion on the medical sector will focus on highlighting conditions within the sector. Panelists will be Doug Babb, CEO of Cooper Clinic; Jeremy Drinkwitz, chief operations officer of Sparks Health System; Dr. Cole Goodman, president of Mercy Clinic Fort Smith; and Kyle Parker, chairman of the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation.

Medical sector expansions, changes in ownership and news of a planned medical college are likely to be the major regional stories in 2014. The sector also continues to be a job generator for the region.

In the regional Education & Health Services category, employment was 16,400 during January, down from 16,600 in December and below the 16,900 during January 2013. Annual average monthly employment in the sector has steadily grown since 2005 when it reached 14,000. In 2012 the average was 17,000, but fell slightly to 16,800 in 2013. Employment in the sector reached a record 17,300 in October 2012.

Following are some of the top news stories from the area medical sector during 2013 and early 2014.

• Fort Smith could soon be home to Arkansas’ first college of osteopathic medicine and one of just 31 in the U.S., thanks to a more than $58 million investment from the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation (FSRHF) and a grant of 200 acres from the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA).

• Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates (HMA) announced in April it would build a regional service center in Fort Smith and employ more than 500 with average annual salaries potentially exceeding $40,000. At the time, HMA was the parent company of Sparks Health System in Fort Smith and Summit Medical Center in Van Buren. The facility opened in September. Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems has since acquired HMA in a $7.6 billion deal.

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• Work continued during 2013 on a plan announced in August 2011 by the St. Louis-based Sisters of Mercy to invest $192 million in the Fort Smith area as part of a 10-year plan to invest $4.8 billion in its operations in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Part of that investment was completion of the $42 million Mercy Orthopedic Hospital in Fort Smith that was estimated to add 100 jobs.

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