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WITH VIDEO: Elite Athletic physical therapy business owner forges ahead

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When Jose Dominguez decided to build a fitness training facility to complement his growing Cumberland Physical Therapy business, he expected hurdles to cross.

He did not expect nearly insurmountable barriers that threatened the viability of the project.

Dominguez owns Elite Athletic Performance & Cumberland Aquatic Center, an aquatics exercise and injury-prevention business that opened a location in January 2013 on Route 11 along the boundary line separating Hampden and Silver Spring townships.

Dominguez chose to renovate a 13,000-square-foot building that had been vacant for several years. He purchased the property in July 2012 and oversaw a project that included tearing up floor to install an indoor pool. Crews quickly found improper footers and a sewer system not connected to public lines.

Limestone rock complicated matters. Digging for the pool, for example, was supposed to take a couple of days but took a month. Dominguez was forced to scramble to keep his dream alive.

While he shakes his head at the recollection of those headaches, Dominguez eventually turned Elite into a thriving fitness center. The facility is a natural fit for his three Cumberland Physical Therapy locations in New Cumberland and Hampden and Upper Allen townships.

“About three years ago, we noticed that our patients wanted to continue receiving therapy at our facility, but we just didn’t have the space,” Dominguez explained. “It was obviously a risk (to build Elite), but we felt comfortable that we had enough support.”

Theresa Eberly, Silver Spring Township manager, said her office was happy to see the project since the building had sat vacant for several years and had “fallen into disrepair.”

“Jose’s group took and structurally made it look far better than it was before,” she said. “It’s the first business you see when you’re coming into the township and it was certainly a little bit of an eyesore before.”

Two decades

Dominguez specializes in the evaluation and treatment of orthopedic and sports injuries and has spent most of his 22 years practicing physical therapy in the Mechanicsburg area. In 2002, he opened his first Cumberland Physical Therapy location with two employees.

Today, he employs about 30 people across the four facilities. While construction of the Elite facility was fraught with bad luck, a positive environment accompanied much of Dominguez’s business success.

The trends toward wellness and injury prevention helped Cumberland Physical Therapy establish itself, said Dominguez, who holds a master’s degree in orthopedic and sports physical therapy and athletic training from the University of North Carolina.

“People are more aware of trying to prevent injury and staying healthy,” he said. “It’s a great way to keep yourself out of trouble” health-wise.

According to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, about 100 million adult Americans suffer from some sort of chronic pain. As a result, physical therapy needs have soared.

Likewise, U.S. Census figures show Cumberland County to be one of the fastest-growing counties in Pennsylvania over the past 20 years. All of that data help explain why Cumberland Physical Therapy has grown so steadily since 2002, Dominguez said.

“It is a good place to have a business like this, because it’s growing,” he added. “And for the most part, people here are able to spend money on their physical fitness.”

In addition, past laws made physical therapy subject to a referral from a licensed medical doctor. That changed in 2002, when Pennsylvania became the 44th state to permit “direct access” to physical therapy. Anyone suffering from sore joints or achy muscles can just pick up the phone and make an appointment.

“That is something that has helped us,” Dominguez said.

Rapidly changing industry

Otherwise, physical therapists are also subjected to the upheaval in the health insurance industry. Dominguez is monitoring the changes related to Obamacare and isn’t convinced those changes will equate to good news.

“We’re concerned that we’re going to be reimbursed less for physical therapy,” he said.

The emergence of walk-in clinics is the latest health care trend affecting Cumberland Physical Therapy.

“There’s a lot more competition than when I started,” Dominguez said. “It’s always a challenge to have enough referrals.”

To his fitness customers, Dominguez makes it clear that Elite is not their neighborhood gym. All members must agree to a physical evaluation and a workout plan with an assigned instructor.

Dominguez explained that he wants his clients to get the optimal health benefits, be it from a fitness workout or physical therapy.

“It’s very supervised,” he said. “It helps with injury prevention, because they’re not doing anything they shouldn’t be doing.”

That is part of the allure for Nicole Keller , who joined the center in January 2013. She said members of the casual workout gyms are often not training with proper techniques.

“I feel that it’s like having your own personal trainer at your disposal,” said Keller, of Mechanicsburg. “I started here myself because I injured myself at another gym.”

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