One day, Naples could be home to a top-notch surgery center for sports injuries and joint replacements, drawing patients from around the world.
It's a concept that Reinhold Schmieding, the founder and president of Arthex Inc., a local manufacturer of orthopedic devices, is seriously exploring — and it could be a big step in growing medical tourism in Collier County.
He shared his ideas, which included a convention center, at a meeting his company hosted Wednesday at its Naples headquarters off Creekside Boulevard.
The event, sponsored by the Collier County Lodging & Tourism Alliance, drew a crowd of about 75, most of whom work in the tourism business.
Schmieding's idea is to create a so-called center of excellence in partnership with local doctors and hospitals, where patients can get cutting-edge orthopedic treatments at an outpatient surgical center next to Arthrex's Naples headquarters.
"That is going to happen," he said confidently. "It's going to take a couple of years."
One of the obstacles is Medicare won't approve reimbursements for the treatments if they're not done in a hospital, Schmieding said. He said he's talking with Gov. Rick Scott about how to get that policy changed.
Arthrex is a pioneer in the field of arthroscopy and has developed more than 6,000 innovative products and surgical techniques.
The surgery center Schmieding envisions would include suites where patients could stay for a few nights during rehabilitation, which would be done on site. Patients needing more rehabilitation could then stay at local hotels, fueling their business too, Schmieding said.
The center would draw surgeons from around the world to observe the latest surgical techniques, bringing more visitors to the county, he said.
Schmieding offered other ideas for growing medical tourism in the county. He said a convention center is sorely needed and without it the county loses business it could get from Arthrex and other large health care companies and groups that don't host big meetings and events here because there's no room for them.
"Your hotels are just too small," he told the crowd.
For its sales meetings and other big company events, Arthrex ends up going to Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco or other big cities.
"We spend millions of dollars on meetings we could do here," Schmieding said.
If there was a convention center, Arthrex, he said, could help draw big health care conferences, which would bring millions of dollars into the local economy.
In his talk, Schmieding emphasized there are two sides to medical tourism — education and treatment.
He sees more promise in medical education. Visitors who come for medical education tend to be wealthy and they're likely to spend more on entertainment and recreation because they're not focused on treatment and recovery, he said.
Arthrex's medical education program for surgeons and other health care professionals is projected to bring in more than 10,000 visitors to the Naples area this year, giving the local tourism industry a $10 million boost, Schmieding said.
On Wednesday, the company had 30 surgeons in from Latin America, who were getting training on shoulder surgeries.
"Basically, we're like the driving range for surgeons," Schmieding said. "Without practice, how are you going to get better?"
Last year, the company's visitors filled more than 5,500 hotel rooms, he said.
He showed a picture of the Naples Pier at sunset, saying maybe the county shouldn't spend so much time promoting the beach and the sun, which causes skin cancer anyway.
"Health care education tourism is a proven opportunity," Schmieding said.
He talked about the importance of diversifying the local economy and the obstacles in attracting new companies, including the high cost of living and a lack of vision from government leaders when it comes to economic development.
"It's all about who you elect," he said.
After the meeting Rick Medwedeff, general manager of the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort & Spa, said he's all for growing medical tourism. However, he said, he's not sure whether there's enough demand to justify building a large, stand-alone convention center in the county. It would likely take government money.
At about 60,000 square feet, the Marco Marriott has the most meeting space in the county and there are hopes of adding another 40,000 square feet across the street if its owners approve, which would enable it to attract larger medical groups and meetings like the ones Schmieding is talking about, Medwedeff said.
Steve McIntire, general manager for the Park Shore Resort and the president of the Collier County Lodging & Tourism Alliance, said he's not opposed to having a convention center in Naples, but he wouldn't support raising the county's tourist tax to pay for it. He said the money could come from a share of the existing tax, which could be reallocated.
"If there's the will, if the county commission has the will, it can be done," he said.
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden