Skip Navigation
Regional News
The new study found that non-profits drive nearly half a billion dollars of economic activity in the North Country.
The new study found that non-profits drive nearly half a billion dollars of economic activity in the North Country.

Non-profits grow up into major North Country industry

Listen to this story
When a lot of people in the North Country think about non-profit organizations, the image that comes to mind is the local community theater or small social-service groups or environmental activists.

But non-profits have grown into one of the region's biggest economic forces. A new study released last week found that one out of every seven jobs in the private sector in our region is provided by a not-for-profit.

Leaders of non-profits gathered last week in Tupper Lake to talk about their impact and their challenges.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this

Explore this

Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Non-profit organizations were not given the respect that they truly deserve in this region. We always were struggling with 'did we have a seat at the table' when there was a conversation about economic development...
At times the discussion at the Wild Center sounded a bit like a non-profit self-help group. 

"Anybody else want to share something, anything else of their own town or the ways that non-profits make a difference to your community?" asked That’s Jim Herman from Keene, who helped start a non-profit that brought broadband internet service to his community.

The truth is that a lot of people at this gathering think the not-for-profit world just doesn’t get the respect and attention it deserves.

Cali Brookes, head of the Adirondack Foundation, says this theme comes up again and again whenever non-profit leaders get together, "Non-profit organizations were not given the respect and the position that they truly deserve in this region," she said.  "We always were struggling with did we have a seat at the table when there was a conversation about economic development in our small towns."

So the Foundation and some other non-profit groups commissioned a study, sort of a snapshot really, looking at the economic impact of 36 non-profit groups.

It found that they generated more than $400 million in economic activity,creating hundreds of often high-paying year-round jobs.

Wild Center Great Hall at night.  The organization says it generates $14 million in economic activity. Photo: The Wild Center
Wild Center Great Hall at night. The organization says it generates $14 million in economic activity. Photo: The Wild Center
"We help communities thrive and that is very  much part of our mission," said Hillarie Logan-Dechene, director of philanthropy here at the Wild Center. 

The Wild Center was founded to promote outdoor education and environmental awareness. But she says the Wild Center has also emerged as one of Tupper Lake’s biggest employers with roughly 35 full time equivalent jobs.

"We're looking at roughly a $14 million impact on the region," Logan-Dechene says, pointing to salaries, tourism dollars, and other economic activity sparked by the museum.

Attracting traditional investment and start-up capital to rural America is tough.  But Logan-Dechene says non-profits like the Wild Center are also using philanthropy to draw outside dollars to the North Country.

This is a regular theme at this gathering – the idea that non-profits have been able to fill economic roles that regular for-profit businesses are no longer taking on.

Ben Strader from Hamilton County helped to organize a non-profit group that saved the Indian Lake movie theater.  He says non-profits offer a kind of third-way for struggling small towns.

"People are often waiting around for a for-profit or a government solution to keeping the lights on in their town.  You can't just want for an entrpreneur who's not going to come to start a grocery store or bring vitality to your community.  There are other solutions."

Non-profit groups like TAUNY fill many storefronts in towns across the North Country.
Non-profit groups like TAUNY fill many storefronts in towns across the North Country.
A lot of non-profit leaders say their work also serves a kind of midwife role, helping to start more traditional businesses and start-ups.  Jill Bright is with a group called TAUNY, Traditional Arts In Upstate New York, based in Canton. "Right now three cultural organizations sitting in this room are involved in serious long-term projects to help entrepreneurs in this region," she said.

That view was echoed by Howard Nelson who heads the Hudson Headwaters Health Foundation, based in Glens Falls. He says the healthcare clinics run by his organization provide jobs, but they also create an environment where other jobs, other businesses, become more possible. "It's pretty hard to talk about having an economy when people in an area can't find healthcare.  We're starting with that cornerstone of community life," Nelson said.

People here argue that non-profit groups also help the economy by supporting workers in the private sector who aren’t earning enough to pay for basic needs like rent and food. John Bernardi, executive director of United Way of the Adirondack Region based in Plattsburgh, says, "They're running out of fuel, their lights are getting turned off, and they're turning to the non-profit sector [for help]."

The idea that non-profits aren’t just doing good work—they’re also anchoring the local economy—is catching on. The Regional Economic Development Council formed by New York state a couple of years ago has been channeling more dollars to non-profits as well as traditional businesses. 

Tom Plastino, deputy CEO with the St. Lawrence County industrial development agency, says it’s time to think differently about then non-profit sector, "So should we be growing these non-profits, not because or only because of the good they do for the communities.  But because they are employing people who are taking home salaries and wages and spending them locally."

In the past there’s often been tension and fierce debate over the growth of the non-profit sector. Non-profits don’t pay property taxes and sometimes they compete with businesses that don’t have the same level of access to grants and government support.   

Ben Strader from Indian Lake acknowledges that debate, but said non-profits and governments and businesses are getting better at working together. "It is a challenge for the non-profit to figure out when the right to step in is, and when to do that," Starder said. "But there are other ways of doing things.  [Non-profit development] allows momentum and community building and a sense that we have options at a time when some people feel that they don't have many options for their towns."

Visitor comments


NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.