Vol. 20, Issue 1 ‣ editorial
The Tools for a City’s Prosperity
Some things are hard not to notice: Downtown Clearwater’s largest building and its street-bridge-connected companion, for example. The structures, resplendent in their architecture, are the nexus of the Church of Scientology—the historic Fort Harrison and the recently opened cathedral, the Flag Building.
But equally important items are less noticeable. Scientologists own almost 300 businesses in the Clearwater area, many of them cutting-edge technology and energy firms. Hundreds of Scientologists pitch in on charitable endeavors—and open their pocketbooks to the tune of almost $87 million a year in support of their religion, its humanitarian initiatives, and other good causes in the Tampa Bay area.
Yes, the Church of Scientology makes an enormous impact on Clearwater, where the religion has its spiritual headquarters. The roughly 13,000 Scientologists who live in the Tampa Bay area and the 9,000 plus and growing Church members who visit each year are part of the rich weave that is the fabric of life in Clearwater and throughout the Tampa Bay area. All large institutions—hospitals, colleges and universities, military bases, and religions—have impacts. Social, intellectual, cultural and financial. Metrics can’t describe many of those impacts—but, certainly, an institution’s good works and community spirit enrich a city.
Still, one metric—economics—is possible to gauge. The Church moved its spiritual headquarters to Clearwater almost four decades ago. The central city at that time was a near ghost town—people, businesses, jobs and money had fled to the suburbs.
In 1976, the Church rescued two historical icons from decay—the Fort Harrison Hotel and the former Bank of Clearwater. And that began a fascinating journey of how the Church contributed its resources and talent in this Gulf Coast town. Over the last seven years the Church has invested greatly in the restoration, renovation and construction of architectural beauty in the downtown.
The payback has been a religion that has flourished and prospered under the Florida sun. The first Scientologists in Clearwater—staff members who came to establish what the religion calls the Flag Land Base, or Flag—numbered about 250. The last seven years have seen phenomenal expansion of Scientology—across the globe and in Clearwater. About 2,300 staff members now work at Flag, and over 10,000 parishioners are full-time residents in the area. More than 9,000 Scientologists—from Europe, Asia, South and Central America, Africa, Australia, and across the United States, Canada and Mexico—traveled to Clearwater in 2013 for stays generally much longer than normal tourism; the number of visitors is accelerating.
Those recent numbers were the backbone of a study completed in July 2014 by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis (CEFA). In looking at such economic impact reports, it’s natural to zero in on the big numbers, and CEFA amply documented those:
The total 2013 economic impact of the Church of Scientology in Clearwater and surrounding areas was $917 million. The Church is financially the single largest private presence in Clearwater.
The Church annually sustains 7,514 jobs in the area. Those are good jobs, producing annual payrolls of about $338 million, or about $45,000 per job.
Underscoring the economic study is another report that zeros in on downtown Clearwater. The Urban Land Institute, based in Washington, D.C., took a hard look at Clearwater during the summer and released its final report in September. “The Church of Scientology can assist the City in a number of ways,” the ULI report stated. Noting that it’s imperative for the City to create a master plan, ULI commented: “By participating in the implementation of the revised downtown redevelopment, the Church of Scientology will help the City make informed decisions. …This will lead to better outcomes for all downtown stakeholders.”
Still, what if the Church left? The CEFA report didn’t calculate that, but two 2007 economic impact studies made the point. Benecke Economics stated: “If the Church were to unplug, or disinvest, in the City of Clearwater it would cause irreparable damage to the city.” And Micro Economics Ltd. reported that if the Church left “the depressed area activity would tend to feed upon itself, resulting in a downward spiral of economic decay” similar to “many ‘rust belt’ cities in the industrial Midwest.”
The Church came, built, invested and flourished—and created jobs and prosperity throughout the area. Had the Church never arrived, or had left, no one could have filled the economic vacuum. One of the best qualities of an institutional presence in a community is stability. That’s a huge, solid rock for prosperity for the whole community. This issue of Freedom documents the numbers, true. But articles put faces on those numbers—stories about the work and accomplishments of the many Scientologists who are your neighbors in Clearwater.
The Church of Scientology offers its strength and growth as a gift to the community. Clearwater is the winner.
— The Editors