Single Greatest Contributor
The financial impact of the Church of Scientology on Clearwater, Florida—the religion’s spiritual headquarters—is almost $1 billion a year, more than any other single entity.
When the Flag Building opened in Clearwater, Florida, in November 2013, the new cathedral of Scientology—a religion that’s spread across all continents and hundreds of cities—registered a resounding economic impact on the West Central Florida region. The Church pumps almost $1 billion into the Tampa Bay area economy every year, according to an authoritative study by Florida State University economists.
“In every city throughout the globe where we establish a Church, we bring resources from our entire religion to build the community,” said David Miscavige, Scientology ecclesiastical leader. “Tens of thousands of Scientologists worldwide contributed to the Flag Building. And as the religious center of Scientology, Clearwater benefits from the thousands of international Scientologists who travel to the area to study and for spiritual counseling. Indeed, Scientology has made Clearwater a world-focused city.”
The Urban Land Institute (ULI), a Washington think tank, did a comprehensive study of Clearwater and its economy during the summer of 2014. As ULI was doing its work, it became clear that the Church’s Flag Land Base—as its spiritual headquarters is known—was the major player in downtown Clearwater. With thousands of Scientologists living in and visiting the Tampa Bay area, the economic impact was obviously large—but unquantified.
ULI’s final report in September 2014 showed the Church comparable to other types of institutional anchors in urban areas—such as universities, medical centers, state and federal government enclaves, and military bases.
“We think the Church brings considerable resources and goodwill to help solve the challenges facing the city,” said William Kistler, an acclaimed urban planning consultant who led the ULI team studying Clearwater.
But how many and what type of resources can Scientology offer a community? To find out, the Church commissioned an economic impact study by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis (CEFA).
Two powerful factors emerged from the FSU and ULI studies: The financial strength of an international and expanding religion as an institutional anchor; plus the thousands of Scientologists who create companies, bring jobs, encourage culture, support scores of charities and civic endeavors, and funnel their own above-average incomes into the local economy.
The FSU analysis amply displays that as the international spiritual headquarters of Scientology, Clearwater benefited to the tune of about $917 million in 2013, making the Church the greatest single contributor to the Clearwater economy.
And the Church’s impact includes more than the bottom-line number. The study also profiled the roughly 22,000-plus Scientologists who live in or visit the Tampa Bay area each year—a demographic group defined not only by financial clout but also by entrepreneurial accomplishments, artistic and cultural endeavors and civic involvement. The FSU economists’ report observed: “More than 90 percent of the residents [who are Church members] surveyed state that the primary reason for living in Clearwater is their proximity to the Church and the strong community of Scientologists.”
The $917 million in annual Scientology impact in the Clearwater economy included $485 million in identifiable direct impact, plus a conservatively calculated $432 million in indirect and induced impact.
By comparison, the Church’s impact exceeds many well-known Florida entities such as NASA’s operations in the state, the University of Tampa, the Tampa Bay area cruise ship industry, and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team—according to those organizations’ own reports.
Referring to the Church’s impact, the FSU economists’ report states: “It is expected that those current numbers will increase, given the recent opening of the Flag Building.”
There already has been a rapid increase in the number of Scientologists who visit the city. Roughly 900 people were at the Flag Building for study and religious services on the day it opened, while 11 months later more than 2,100 people are there each day.
With the religion’s economic impact growing by about $62 million a year since 2007, according to the Florida State University study, the Church easily will top the $1 billion mark in a matter of months—if it hasn’t done so already.
The study also concluded that the Church contributed 7,514 jobs to the Tampa Bay area in 2013, with paychecks totaling $338 million—or almost $45,000 per employee.
All of those numbers provide data for a positive calculation of a resurgent downtown Clearwater, as well as a huge boon for Florida. It’s also a signal to our cities around the world that Scientology invests in and supports communities.
Evidence of that was shown during the real estate recession that hit the United States after 2008. Many cities struggled as development and construction stalled. Yet, Scientology’s worldwide resources infused $252 million into its Clearwater construction and redevelopment projects. The Church’s property taxes, about $1 million this year, are the second-highest in the city, and Scientologists staying in retreat facilities contribute about $1.2 million a year in tourist taxes.
Another signal to cities where Scientology is established: In the Tampa Bay area, Scientologists’ charitable contributions in 2013 totaled $131 million. Similarly, the output of businesses owned by Scientologists in the Clearwater area was about $288 million, according to the FSU economists.
The past seven years have seen phenomenal expansion of the Scientology religion—across the globe and in Clearwater. About 2,300 staff members now work at Flag, and 10,000 Scientologists are full-time residents in the area. More than 9,000 Scientologists—from Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America, Australia, and every area of the United States and Canada—travel to Clearwater each year for stays generally much longer than those of other tourists, according to the FSU economists. On any given day, a visitor to the Scientology campus will hear more than a score of languages spoken as Church members from afar pursue their spiritual development at Flag.
The Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis report itemizes the assets Scientologists bring to Clearwater. It’s an affluent group, with a median income of $63,675, much of which is the underpinning for businesses, schools, charities and entertainment in the area. Church residents spend $100 million annually on housing, nearly $58 million on household expenses, and some $40 million on shopping.
“When we establish Churches in cities—whether in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa—we arrive as good neighbors,” Mr. Miscavige said. “We invest in the economy, our members aggressively support charities, we bring culture and community activities. We do all of that with passion. The experience in Clearwater is what we seek to achieve in cities around the world.“