Primary Sectors: (6213) Offices of other health practitioners; (6212) Offices of dentists; (6215) Medical and diagnostic laboratories; (6222) Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals; (6211) Offices of physicians; (6216) Home health care services; (6219) Other ambulatory health care services; (6221) General medical and surgical hospitals; (6233) Community care facilities for the elderly; (6231) Nursing care facilities; (6243) Vocational rehabilitation services; (6214) Outpatient care centers; (6241) Individual and family services; 6242 Emergency and other relief services; (6232) Residential mental health facilities; (6239) Other residential care facilities
Cobb County Strengths
- Stable and growing sector throughout the Great Recession
- Elevated demand for services as population ages
- Expansion of WellStar, Kaiser Permanente, and other medical facilities
- Rising market share for WellStar within key specializations
Cobb County’s Healthcare Services target is dominated by one major employer, WellStar Health System. Facilities in Cobb County include WellStar Cobb Hospital, WellStar Kennestone Hospital, WellStar Windy Hill Hospital, ten imaging centers, an assisted living facility, and a network of providers that fall within the WellStar Physicians Group. Cobb County is also served by Emory Adventist Hospital as well as numerous physicians’ offices and local-serving providers.
Cobb County lies on the outskirts of the City of Atlanta, which has a robust network of medical providers and researchers, along with the healthcare capacity of Emory University and its partners only 30 minutes away in DeKalb County.
Recent expansions in Cobb County are certainly buttressing the sector. As a component of its growth throughout Metro Atlanta, Kaiser Permanente recently opened a new West Marietta Medical Center. WellStar Health System has continued to increase its market share in key specializations, such as cardiac care and surgery.
While the Great Recession battered the U.S. economy, healthcare services was the lone bright spot. While the United States shed nearly 8.6 million jobs across all non-healthcare sectors between December 2007 (the onset of the recession) and December 2010, the healthcare services sector added nearly 980,000 jobs. And while Cobb County shed nearly 36,000 non-healthcare jobs during this same period, the healthcare sector added more than 800 jobs.
With the first wave of the Baby Boom generation entering retirement, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, between 2010 and 2030, the national proportion of residents ages 65 and over will increase from 13 to 20 percent. As the nation’s overall population ages along with the Baby Boom generation, an increasing number of individuals will require medical services, hospital, nursing, and at-home care, and will purchase trillions of dollars’ worth of medications, medical devices, and other health related products. While federal reform efforts may change the nature of service delivery, demand for healthcare services will continue to rise.
One issue of concern which may threaten the sector’s long-term performance and stability is the rising cost of healthcare. In 2008, the U.S. spent $2.4 trillion on healthcare and, with average annual growth of 6.2 percent a year, this is expected to balloon to $4.4 trillion by 2018, if left unchecked. The sector’s annual increase in spending reflects a rate nearly three times that of inflation (2.7 percent). Furthermore, the proportion of adults covered by private or employer-provided health insurance steadily declined throughout the 2000s. High costs are reducing access, hitting small businesses and people with chronic disease the hardest. Healthcare reform legislation and health informatics modernization will have a dramatic impact on healthcare delivery and services nationwide. Health informatics is estimated to provide strong opportunities for growth as patient information is digitized.
With a more rapidly-expanding population than the average community nationwide, it is reasonable to expect similarly higher growth in the demand for healthcare services within Cobb County. However, the nature of healthcare service delivery and demand does not limit patients to healthcare providers within their place of residence. As with any other product or service, consumers of healthcare services have choices, and many individuals travel outside their communities to seek high-quality care for specific ailments. With this in mind, the strategies associated with developing the healthcare sector vary from targeting efforts associated with more traditional, traded sectors. While economic development targeting strategies almost exclusively focus on the supply side (businesses), targeting within healthcare services also includes marketing to the demand side (consumers of healthcare services). In this sense, healthcare becomes a traded sector, in which healthcare services are “exported” as patients and income come to the community to receive specific services or treatments.
Those communities with strong medical schools and a variety of world-class treatment specializations will be the most highly competitive communities for destination healthcare expenditures by individuals residing outside their community. Rochester, Minnesota (home to the Mayo Clinic); Cleveland, Ohio (home to the Cleveland Clinic); Baltimore, Maryland (home to Johns Hopkins); and Memphis, Tennessee (home to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital) fit this mold and pull patients from across the nation and the world. Other locations such as Emory University Hospital/The Emory Clinic pull fewer patients from around the nation but successfully attract patients from a smaller geographic area such as the Southeast.
Cobb County possesses some strong healthcare assets, including but not limited to the WellStar Health System. As of December 2010, the county’s healthcare and social assistance sector represented only 10.2 percent of total county employment, as compared to 12.7 percent nationwide. With a rapidly aging population, construction underway on new hospital facilities, and continued expansion of market share a focus of the WellStar System’s long-range planning, there will undoubtedly be significant, new growth opportunities in Cobb County’s healthcare sector.
Workforce, Wage and Employment Trends
And as is typical in the healthcare services sector across the country, registered nurses (4,630) and nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants (2,080) are the largest occupations supporting the sector. As Kennesaw State continues to grow, recruiting students to it nursing program will be imperative to ensuring that there are enough employees to meet the demands of the county’s expanding healthcare providers.
With WellStar’s flagship hospital (Kennestone) and administrative functions for the entire multi-county system located in Marietta, it is not surprising that there is a relatively high concentration of medical and health services managers (location quotient = 1.39) despite a relatively low concentration among practitioners (nurses, physicians, etc.). These individuals typically coordinate the provision of health services, supervise staff, and administer certain fiscal operations. These are high-wage positions that in some instances require advanced business administration degrees but do not require advanced medical degrees.
While the county has a relative abundance of workers in a few specific occupations such as medical and clinical laboratory technicians (1.71) and dental hygienists (1.43), the remaining occupations account for a smaller share of total employment in the county than the nation. Many of these are low-wage sectors. The relatively large number of lab technicians is not surprising given the presence of imaging and diagnostic centers in the county, as well as CryoLife, a large biological and medical device firm that employs numerous technicians in Kennesaw. Accordingly, many of these technicians support the Bioscience target in addition to the Healthcare Services target.
Although data is not disclosed for all subsectors, there were more than 29,000 individuals employed in the healthcare and social assistance super-sector in December 2010, representing 10.2 percent of all county employment. Across all subsectors, more than 4,200 jobs were added between December 2005 and December 2010, equivalent to 16.8 percent growth over the five-year period. Consistent with national trends, this rate of growth far outpaced growth in all other sectors, which experienced considerable decline in both Cobb County and nationwide as a result of the Great Recession.
Many of the Healthcare Services subsectors in Cobb County, for which data are available, grew at rates faster than the national average between 2005 and 2010.
General medical and surgical hospitals and offices of physicians are the top two target subsectors in terms of employment. Combined, these subsectors support nearly half of all jobs within the Healthcare Services target. Both subsectors experienced competitive job growth compared to the nation over the five year period examined. Combined, these two subsectors added 1,644 jobs in Cobb County between 2005 and 2010, accounting for nearly 39 percent of all healthcare services growth.
As Cobb’s older population ages, and if seniors choose to remain in the county, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, and community care facilities for the elderly should continue to grow and at even faster rates. Each of these subsectors has a low location quotient, indicating that they have much lower proportions of total employment than the average community nationwide. This may in part reflect the preferences of retirees who seek less urban environments outside of Metro Atlanta for their retirement. However, only one-third of all survey respondents indicated that they were unlikely to retire in Cobb County.
Cobb County enjoys a higher county-wide average annual wage than the national average. Within the Healthcare Services target, only four of the fourteen disclosed subsectors offer average annual wages that exceed the county average of $48,505. These four – offices of dentists, medical and diagnostic laboratories, offices of physicians, and outpatient care centers – cover 9,940 jobs, roughly one third of all healthcare and social assistance employment.
As the nation’s population continues to age, more doctors, nurses, and health practitioners will be needed. Communities across the nation are reporting shortages in many healthcare positions and that training is needed at all skill levels. The following health-related programs are available in Cobb County:
- Kennesaw State University offers bachelor’s degree programs in biochemistry, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, exercise and health science, nursing, and psychology. The WellStar School of Nursing granted 211 bachelor’s degrees and 37 master’s degrees in registered or family practice nursing during the 2009-2010 academic year, ensuring a strong pipeline of talent.
- Chattahoochee Technical College offers certificate and associate degree programs in nursing, emergency medical technician, health information technology, healthcare assistant, healthcare science, health studies, medical assisting, occupational therapy assistant, paramedic technology, physical therapist assistant, practical nursing, radiography, and surgical technology.
- Life University has a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, a graduate degree program in sport health science, and undergraduate degree programs in biology, biopsychology, exercise science, health coaching, life coaching, nutrition and dietetics, and psychology. The largest chiropractic university in the world, Life University is well-known for its high-quality and high-capacity chiropractic program, a key strength for the County and region in the development of talent to support this specialization.