In ignoring the nonprofit community when planning his jobs conference, Gov. LePage turned his back on a significant economic force within our state and region.

The nonprofit sector is not just a source of cultural enlightenment and social betterment. It’s also a major employer within our region, with impact far beyond those people who work directly for nonprofit institutions.

The New England Foundation on the Arts recently undertook a major study of the impact of nonprofit arts institutions in our region (with the help of the Maine Center for Creativity).

It found that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations comprise a significant and growing industry within our region that has been quite a steady and reliable source of jobs and other economic impact.

Of course, their effect is more than economic — they enhance the quality of life for all of us — but just the economic numbers are impressive.


In 2009, the study found, the more than 18,000 nonprofit arts institutions in New England provided an economic impact of $3.7 billion. They directly employed more than 53,000 people, but were really responsible for more than 83,000 jobs. Every dollar spent by a Maine nonprofit arts and cultural organization became two dollars in sales for businesses.

The NEFA report explained that, “The spending of New England’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations becomes income to printers, builders, maintenance and repair vendors, fuel suppliers, banks, insurance agents, advertising agencies, electricity, heating oil and telephone companies, as well as state and local governments.

“These enterprises, in turn, spend some of their sales revenues to buy needed supplies and services from other New England businesses.”

An earlier national study by Americans for the Arts showed that the nonprofit arts and culture industry strengthens our nation’s economy by supporting jobs and generating government revenue, and is the cornerstone of tourism.

The study documented $166.2 billion in economic activity every year — $63.1 billion in direct spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by audiences.


The results of this spending are significant:

• 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs.

• $104.2 billion in household income.

• $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues.

• $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues.

• $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues.

I wish that more recent data were available, because the creative economy has been growing so rapidly that I’m sure the effects are much more dramatic.

The Creative Portland Corp. will be helping with updates to the national study, but we can see the effects on the streets of Portland.

The First Friday Art Walk in Portland has by itself become a significant source of business for restaurants, hotels and other service businesses — as well as a marketplace for Maine artists and artisans that generates further income for galleries and other venues. And this is only one of many events that occur regularly in Portland.

Some critics have pointed out that nonprofit institutions are different, as they don’t pay property taxes in the same way, and are not responsible to shareholders for generating their own growth. True enough. But that doesn’t at all diminish the value or impact of the many jobs that they create, or of the spending that follows from those jobs.


Does the graphic designer employed by the Maine College of Art or by Portland Ovations spend a smaller portion of his or her income on local goods and services than the designer working at one of Portland’s ad agencies or magazines? Of course not.

Money paid to workers at Maine’s nonprofits goes right back into our local and regional economy and helps create economic vitality for all of us.

As a board member of the Creative Portland Corp., I’ve focused here on our arts institutions.

But the nonprofit community is much larger than that. It includes most of our hospitals and colleges, many of the social service agencies, and a variety of economic development institutions. In turning his back on Maine nonprofit institutions, LePage was ignoring a significant and growing sector of Maine’s economy, a sector that many believe will be the catalyst for our economic revitalization.

– Special to the Telegram