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Nonprofits give boost to economy

LAWRENCEVILLE - Nonprofit groups in Gwinnett generate more than $411 million in revenue and create more than 11,000 jobs annually, according to a report released last week.

Those are just a few of the statistics detailed in a report meant to help nonprofit groups escape the stereotype that they don't contribute to the local economy because they don't pay taxes. The report, prepared by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government for the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services, quantifies the nonprofit sector's effect on the local economy.

The coalition's executive director, Ellen Gerstein, said she hopes nonprofit directors can use the statistics to talk about their work in a language politicians and business people can understand - money.

"Sometimes, when we talk about our work, we tend to be touchy-feely," Gerstein said. "We're not talking their language. They need to understand what we're doing when they invest their money and their time in us."

Among the report's other findings: Nonprofits in Gwinnett indirectly create three jobs in other industries for every one nonprofit employee. Gwinnett's nonprofit groups pay their employees more than $290 million annually, a larger local payroll than the state government, telecommunications or transportation and warehousing sectors. And in 2004, the assets of Gwinnett nonprofits totaled more than $1 billion.

Gerstein said she plans to present the report to anyone who will listen, including the county commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce and rotary clubs. She said she expects the report will persuade more people to donate their time and money to their favorite causes, as well as more businesses to partner with nonprofit groups. She also hopes it will convince local government officials to understand the dangers of cutting funding from nonprofit groups.

"We hope people will recognize and include nonprofit directors in conversations on economic and community development, and not just when there's a social service issue," Gerstein said.

Even after working in the nonprofit world for two decades, Gerstein said she was surprised by the findings.

"I knew we were contributing economically, but I was really not expecting the level we are," Gerstein said.

She was amazed by the number of jobs that are indirectly created by the nonprofit industry. When counting up those jobs, the report looked at not only employees at nonprofit groups, but also employees at the companies that help the nonprofits do their jobs - office supply stores, copy shops and everything else the groups need to run smoothly.

The report studied nonprofit groups based in Gwinnett County. While health groups including Gwinnett Hospital System make up the biggest chunk, other nonprofit groups studied include everything from the Gwinnett Council for the Arts to the cooperative ministry food pantries to children's groups such as the Gwinnett Children's Shelter.

Researchers studied the groups by looking at their gross receipts and wage expenditures from annual tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Charities that gross less than $25,000 annually are exempt from filing an annual return with the IRS and were left out of the study.