An Owensboro native, Wells grew up on the west end of the city. The foundation for his career as an entrepreneur was laid in the laundry room at Hermitage Nursing Home on West Parrish Avenue, where a fifteen year-old Wells earned $1.25 an hour on his first job. While most teenagers simply revel at the thought of their first paycheck, Wells saw an opportunity for something greater in that part-time job. In fact, according to Wells, “I started working that job in 1970, and it lasted….well, still to this day.”
Although Wells no longer launders the linens at Hermitage, he never left the nursing home industry. After staying home to attend Kentucky Wesleyan College, and obtaining his license as a nursing home administrator, Wells moved from the laundry room to the front office, and became the administrator at Hermitage in 1978. That same year, before he even owned his own car, Wells purchased his first nursing home, Rosedale Rest Home on the west end of Owensboro.
So how does a twenty-three year old come to buy a nursing home? According to Wells, the answer is simple. “It’s the power of establishing relationships and getting to know people.” In addition to putting his people skills to work, Wells was also persistent. After being turned down by several banks for a loan, Wells approached the owner of the facility, whom he knew through his work at Hermitage, and she agreed to finance the purchase for him.
That same knack for networking, knowledge of his field, and persistence spawned Wells Health Systems, a company comprised of skilled nursing, rehabilitation, specialized Alzheimer’s, personal care and assisted living facilities. Since its inception, Wells Health Systems has managed over forty-five different facilities. At its height, the company owned thirty nursing homes, and employed 3,700 workers. At this point in his career, it was more than clear that Jack Wells had “made it” in the business world.
Still, like any successful entrepreneur, Wells sought out a new challenge. After growing up in Owensboro as a child, graduating from Owensboro High School and KWC, and headquartering a major company in the city as an adult, Wells sought to invest further in the place he called home. So, with the proceeds earned from the sale of his healthcare business in 2007, Wells began purchasing real estate. Living in Owensboro his entire life, Wells thought it only appropriate for the next phase of his professional life to begin here, as well.
In 2010, Wells formed Riverfront JAM, LLC with his business partner, Matt Hayden, for the purpose of purchasing properties in downtown Owensboro. Discussing the reasoning behind his investment in Owensboro, Wells says, “I wanted to be a part of the revitalization of downtown [Owensboro]. My personal vision is to create a living destination for downtown, encompassing art and events, and creating fun, great shopping, great food, and an overall environment where people want to live.” Wells envisions these ideas becoming reality within the next five years.
As of this year, Wells is well on his way to achieving his five-year goal. In a short time, those vacant lots purchased by Riverfront JAM have become the new Boardwalk Pipeline office building, and the future home of the $15 million Holiday Inn, adjacent to the Owensboro Convention Center. Development of the new Boardwalk Pipeline building, located on Second Street between Walnut Street and Cedar Street, not only served as an important, early cog in Owensboro’s downtown expansion plan, but also helped the city retain a number of high-paying corporate headquarter jobs. Another of Wells’ companies also has a presence in the Boardwalk building. Canteen Service of Kentuckiana, Inc., which Wells acquired in 2011, provides an on-site, self-service convenience store for Boardwalk employees.
Upon completion, the five-story Holiday Inn hotel will house 123 rooms for tourists and visitors of the burgeoning downtown.
The hotel will also include a restaurant and patio with riverfront views. In addition to Boardwalk and Holiday Inn, Wells and Riverfront JAM are also in the process of developing a gated, residential community next to the hotel, and retail and office space to the south.
When discussing his real estate projects, Wells lights up. It is clear that he takes great pride in his role in improving downtown Owensboro. Even after spending forty years in the healthcare industry, Wells possesses a newfound zeal for his latest venture, and is truly passionate about Owensboro and its future. Jack Wells has not only “made it” in a professional sense, but because of his commitment to his home town, he’s also making Owensboro a better place to work and live.