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Study shows nonprofits have big impact on local economy

December 17, 1997

Study shows nonprofits have big impact on local economy

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Nonprofit organizations in Washington County paid more than $104 million in wages in 1996, just under 7 percent of total wages paid in the county last year, according to a new county-by-county report on nonprofit organizations.

That's a strong indicator of the economic impact of nonprofit organizations in the county, said Peter V. Berns, executive director of the Baltimore-based Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

Berns presented the report, "Nonprofits by the Numbers," along with the findings of an in-depth study of Maryland's nonprofit sector, to local nonprofit leaders at Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center on Wednesday.

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The study showed nonprofit organizations have become an important economic force in the state, with employment growth outpacing total employment growth in most Maryland counties, Berns said.

In Washington County, nonprofit-sector employment grew by 18.8 percent from 1989 to 1996 compared to total employment growth of 13.5 percent in that period, he said.

Maryland nonprofits also are encountering challenges that threaten their survival, Berns said.

While many say they're seeing an increased demand for their services, many also report low private giving, revenue growth that isn't keeping pace with inflation, problems getting and retaining staff and volunteers, and decreased public confidence, he said.

Washington County nonprofit organizations face those challenges, local nonprofit leaders said.

The demand for emergency food assistance locally has increased by 30 percent over last year, said Brad Sell, executive director of Food Resources Inc., a Hagerstown-based nonprofit agency that supplies food to area food banks.

Sell said he thinks the amount of private support his agency and others receive is much lower than it could be given the healthy economy and resources of the baby boomers in the community.

Sell said he's afraid of what will happen to nonprofit organizations if the economy takes a turn for the worse.

It's frustrating to struggle for private contributions when you see so much money going to things like gambling and high salaries for athletes and entertainers, said David Swacina, director of Cedar Ridge Ministries, which operates a home and school for troubled boys in Williamsport.

Swacina said his agency relies on private contributions for more than one-fifth of its operating costs.

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