Like other CEOs, I'm concerned about stemming "brain drain" amid a mass retirement and experience exodus in Minnesota.

But a more immediate economic and competitiveness issue is how to deliver and pay for senior care to assist our current employees who are dealing with their aging parents. Absent innovation, the human and financial costs of a much larger, longer-living senior society will weaken other investments designed to enhance Minnesota's competitiveness and make this state livable for a lifetime.

If my 86-year-old mother-in-law suffered a significant medical event that required care, I would have the luxury of being able to call upon any number of experts within Ecumen for guidance on what to do next, so she could live as fully and independently as possible.

Unfortunately, most people don't have guides for the long-term care maze that now has record numbers of folks lining up outside it. Nearly 45 million Americans care for an older or disabled family member. In fact, they give an average of 21 hours each week. And they're mostly women working outside the home, many of whom also care for children.

I've found that the people drawn to exhaustive juggling between their paid job and pro bono caregiving often are superstars -- highly productive, talented, team players who are usually the most expensive to replace. That stretching takes a toll. Caregivers burning life at both ends have increased risk for depression, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer, and have a significantly higher mortality rate than non-caregivers. The juggling costs businesses more than $33 billion annually, according to MetLife's "Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Businesses,'' and that figure is growing.

Health care is a top business issue. Yet, largely absent from business' discussion of health care reform is one of government's largest, fastest-growing cost-drivers: long-term care of people with chronic illness or disability.

Just over $158 billion is paid for long-term care nationally, with Medicaid paying almost half. Most of the dollars go to nursing-home care. Long-term care consumes about a half billion dollars of Minnesota's budget and could cost $20 billion by 2050 if we don't change how we pay for and deliver it.

That cost looms much larger when I think about other competitive necessities such as building a 21st-century workforce and transportation system. And I also see a big wildcard in this cost mix: the currently incurable Alzheimer's disease. Every 72 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer's. Most of us are familiar with some of the 200,000 people who provide unpaid Alzheimer's or dementia care in Minnesota. What most of us don't know, however, is that the estimated market value of that care is about $1.5 billion.

Is there any wonder the Department of Human Services (DHS) compares the age wave to Hurricane Katrina? Longevity no longer can be the sole domain of government, churches, social services, nursing homes or AARP. Every employee is aging.

The late Elmer Andersen, former Minnesota governor and CEO of H.B. Fuller Co., innovated when he brought child care to the workplace. We could do the same for senior care and create places where one's children and parents get care, capturing the value of young and old making connections.

The workplace has done a very good job of helping people take more personal control over their wellness and retirement savings. It also could be the place to help people plan for their own long-term care possibilities as well as connect to care options for their loved ones.

Keeping people out of nursing homes saves money. Most adult children want to keep their loved ones from entering a nursing home for as long as possible. We must make options available to our workforce to help it manage.

Minnesota has a program called Consumer Directed Community Supports (www.dhs.state.mn.us/cdcs/) where Medicaid-eligible seniors can use a voucher to pay family or other caregivers rather than more expensive institutional care. Polling shows Minnesotans love the option; however, few know it exists.

If publicizing this option to support independence and caregivers is too costly for the state, let's figure out a better way. Ecumen soon will sponsor a Citizens League workgroup to look at the issue and develop options. We hope others, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Business Partnership, will join this effort to help shape solutions.

The other day I received a call from a friend, a partner in a leading law firm. She just learned her father needs care. "Where do I begin?" she asked. We all must help Minnesota ride the age wave, instead of waiting to drown beneath it.