A County in Which Half the Economy is Nonprofit-Driven

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July 9, 2015; WAMC Public Radio

A report by economics professor Stephen Sheppard of Williams College finds nonprofits in Berkshire County account for almost half of that region’s economic activity. Specifically, nearly 373 nonprofits now account for $2.4 billion of the total $5.6 billion in economic activity in Berkshire County. And while the whole economy is operating at 14 percent below its peak output in 2005, nonprofits have reportedly recovered to pre-Recession levels.

Sheppard said that though all subsectors of nonprofits in that county except arts and culture were running operating deficits in 2010, most have been able to recover. “Fortunately they have been able to respond,” he said. “The economy has improved somewhat. They’re now operating, in the most recent data available, at ratios between 0.87 and 0.95. So that suggests that the local nonprofit sector remains reasonably healthy.”

“Eds and meds” led the way, with health nonprofits contributing $870 million in 2012, followed by education and human services with a bit over $354 million. But the arts sector stands out in this county, home of Tanglewood. There are 74 arts organizations in the county. “The only metropolitan area in the United States that has higher levels of arts and cultural expenditures per capita than Berkshire County is metro Washington, D.C.,” said Sheppard.

Berkshire County’s nonprofit assets per capita in general stand out from the ten other communities used as comparisons. Berkshire County’s nonprofit assets per capita were $37,353 in 2012, while St. George, Utah had the low of $880. Burlington, Vermont and Providence were closest on this measure at $22,899 and $21,030, respectively. However, it is worth noting that Burlington had by far the biggest growth.—Ruth McCambridge