At any given time, dozens of residential and commercial developments are in various stages of construction. New housing communities, restaurants, retail stores, shopping plazas and warehouses seemingly pop up overnight. One sector often overlooked as part of that economic discussion is the growth of nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofits are indeed big business in Southwest Florida. According to IRS, there now are 2,426 registered nonprofit organizations operating in Collier County and another 3,081 in Lee County. Charitable organizations focus on a variety of causes, including youth, education, health care, faith, recreation, veterans, the environment and more.
Guadalupe Center, for example, has a mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee. The Center serves more than 1,400 students annually and its impact on students’ lives is well-documented – 95% of youth enrolled in Guadalupe Center’s Early Childhood Education Program meet or exceed Florida’s kindergarten readiness standards, 100% of students in the After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program have made significant academic gains in reading and math, and 94% of Tutor Corps Program alumni have earned a college degree.
What isn’t widely known, however, is Guadalupe Center’s impact on Immokalee’s economy. The nonprofit ranks as one of the community’s largest employers with 84 full-time, benefits-eligible employees and 154 part-time workers, including 117 high school students who serve as after-school tutors.
Earlier this year, Guadalupe Center announced an ambitious campaign, called “Guadalupe Center: 2020 & Beyond,” that will bring additional learning opportunities – and more jobs – to Immokalee. Once the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus and van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning open in 2020 and 2021, respectively, Guadalupe Center will add another 58 full-time equivalent positions to its payroll.
By next year, Guadalupe Center will have nearly 300 full-time and part-time employees. Those individuals will spend their income at local restaurants, retail stores and farmers markets. They’ll hire local plumbers, electricians, carpenters and other service technicians. Dollars earned by those working at Guadalupe Center will be spent right here in Southwest Florida. More than 50% of Tutor Corps alumni have returned to Immokalee, degree in hand, and are working as educators, health care professionals, engineers, public service workers and business leaders, thus contributing their share to the local economy.
Guadalupe Center’s expansion, as well as the growth of other nonprofits in Southwest Florida, represents much-needed economic growth for our community. The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across industries, so an economy standing on multiple legs – tourism, agriculture, real estate, construction and nonprofits – is well-positioned for a recovery.
Southwest Florida’s growing number of nonprofits, however, also is an indication that the community has a growing demand for charitable services. Whether it’s education, food, clothing or other needs, these locally based nonprofits need the community’s help to continue helping others. Private support comprises the balance of Guadalupe Center’s annual operating budget, as well as other nonprofits. During this challenging period, it’s especially important to support these causes because our economy and our neighbors thrive when nonprofits have the funding to accomplish their missions while simultaneously creating jobs that rev Southwest Florida’s economic engine.