Central, South Florida flourishing as proving grounds for wellness at work, home | Crain's Orlando

Central, South Florida flourishing as proving grounds for wellness at work, home

Leaders in some of Florida's biggest industries are implementing a range of innovative, wellness-promoting enterprises that are drawing attention from around the globe. From the Lake Nona development in central Florida to The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, to international conferences and gatherings focused on wellness markets, these efforts are gaining acclaim as “living labs” devoted to both boosting corporate productivity and enhancing community well-being.  

“Florida is a booming wellness market and a real pioneer,” says Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO of the Miami-based Global Wellness Institute. “It’s the uncontested world leader in developing new wellness communities and real-estate concepts.” Homes and communities designed for residents’ physical, mental, social and environmental health represent one of the fastest-growing wellness markets, she explains, expanding globally from $100 billion in 2013 to $119 billion in 2015 – and projected to jump to $153 billion by 2020. “Florida is the hands-down leading hotbed for wellness real estate concepts,” Ellis says.

Example number one, she notes, is Lake Nona, the Tavistock Development Co.’s 17-square-mile master-planned project situated east of Orlando International Airport. The decade-old community’s governing purpose extends beyond standard benchmarks of livability and profitability to include promoting wellness within every aspect of community life. Central to that goal is Lake Nona’s 650-acre “Medical City” life-sciences cluster, which is home to the University of Central Florida School of Medicine, Nemours Children’s Hospital, a new Veterans Affairs hospital and the GuideWell Innovation Center. The Lake Nona Sports and Performance District includes the United States Tennis Association's national campus and the training facilities for Major League Soccer's Orlando City Lions.

The core element of Lake Nona’s development strategy was its intentionality, says Gloria Caulfield, Tavistock’s vice president of strategic alliances. “What we try to do is create ‘ambient health,’” she explains. In Tavistock’s Lake Nona headquarters, for example, floor-to-ceiling glass windows bring in natural light, which has been shown to have a calming effect. “We have standing desks and meeting rooms with stretching machines, treadmills and cycling machines because we know that movement and activity help relieve stress,” Caulfield says.

Included in the Lake Nona development are many classic elements of the community- and ecology-focused New Urbanism design movement, such as ample pedestrian and cycling space and integrated mixed-use layouts, plus wellness-promoting amenities, such as free fitness activities and miles of hiking and biking trails. But Lake Nona also offers residents and businesses the chance to participate in ongoing health- and wellness-related activities and research.

Lake Nona–based Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute is conducting a longitudinal study, the Lake Nona Life Project, to assess various factors that promote better health and well-being within the community. Such research provides a baseline for ongoing studies, Caulfield says. With some 3,000 adult residents participating in research, she notes, “over time, we could be studying [issues such as] sleep health, medical adherence, and behavior modification.”

Lake Nona’s pro-wellness ecosystem attracts like-minded businesses and residents who then have access to the community’s collaborative councils. “We have a CEO organization, a technology council, a research council. It all takes time and energy, but we tend to attract organizations that want to be part of that community," says Caulfield.

The J&J Human Performance Institute is seeing an impact beyond its home base at Lake Nona, particularly in the field of “workplace stress” — a problem that typically begins in the C-suite, says Lowinn Kibbey, global head of HPI.

“One of our core tenets is that stress is in itself not bad; it creates growth,” Kibbey says. “It's chronic stress that’s bad; you need strategies to recover [from it].”

The Institute’s Corporate Athlete program takes a holistic approach to promoting wellness. The goal, says Kibbey, is to harness an individual’s purpose to maximize energy levels in all aspects of life. “We’re dedicated to the fact that behavior-change science has real outcomes.” Johnson & Johnson's more than two decades of work with athletes, elite paramilitary forces, and executives has demonstrated that people at the top of their field have to have a purpose that is bigger than just winning a trophy, Kibbey says.  

Employers are buying into HPI programs, Kibbey says, because they recognize the value of employee purpose. “Most employers that want to sustain high-performance results understand that engagement is critical goes beyond metrics of quarterly results,” Kibbey says. “There's very little in books about company culture. But now leaders are talking about it: 'How engaged are our employees?'”

As a result, Kibbey says, HPI's holistic approach to wellness is one that more employers are exploring, including The Breakers resort in Palm Beach. Breakers CEO Paul Leone developed an in-house program with the help of HPI for both executives and hourly employees.

Not only did the program, called Breakthrough to Wellness, provide access to a wellness coach and an employee fitness center, it also was a catalyst for culture change. Confidential opinion surveys found that 92 percent of 2,000-plus employees said The Breakers was a great place to work. "The reason they say that, when we drill this down, fundamentally, is because they know that they are cared for,” says Leone, adding that for the past decade, the resort’s healthcare costs have been 27 percent lower than the national average.

Florida is likely to continue at the forefront of wellness-promoting innovation, says GWI’s Ellis. Lake Nona Institute’s sixth-annual Impact Forum at the end of February is expected to draw 250 of the nation’s top CEOs, healthcare entrepreneurs and innovators, government officials and other thought leaders. Meanwhile, wellness- and health-oriented communities already in the works include The District: A Life Well Lived, in Jacksonville, and “farm and garden” wellness living developments such as The Grow, in Orlando.

“Florida's always been attractive to those who are interested in health and relaxation,” Ellis says. “It has some unique assets, like the weather and the lifestyle, that put it at the forefront of this conversation.”

January 16, 2018 - 12:17pm