By Eric Huskey
Walking through the gates at Elmwood Park Zoo, you’ve probably never thought about the economic engine behind all of the fun exhibits and exotic animals.
The beneficial role of operating non-profits, like Elmwood Park Zoo, may seem easy to understand at first: a cultural and educational institution providing special-needs programs, Title-1 school field trips and unforgettable days of family learning and fun is of course an establishment any community would welcome with open arms.
But the unknown benefits of non-profits like your neighborhood zoo goes even further: the economic impact made by Elmwood Park Zoo may in fact be its most important contribution to the community.
The zoo, like any local business, re-circulates money back into the local economy, as a matter of course. For example: Elmwood Park Zoo commissioned Norristown-based McDonald Building Company to tackle its largest ever construction project – the multi-species, multi-million dollar “Trail of the Jaguar” exhibit completed last year – that Norristown-based company paid its Norristown-based workers, who, after cashing their paycheck, which included the Norristown earned income tax, then bought food from the local Save-a-lot, and possibly fixed their homes with supplies at Zumo’s Hardware on Main Street – starting the cycle all over again.
Added up, those numbers become pretty staggering at a large non-profit like the zoo. According to the Americans for the Arts’ Arts and Economic Prosperity Economic Impact Calculator V, Elmwood Park Zoo is estimated to provide and maintain over 350 jobs, resulting in over $18M to area households, which includes salaries, money spent and recirculated monies.
Currently Elmwood Park Zoo is one the only such cultural institution in Norristown functioning up to its capability – while the revitalization of places such as Norristown’s Centre Theater are making impressive strides, the total attendance of all other cultural venues in the borough pale in comparison to Elmwood Park Zoo’s projected figure of 750,000 visitors attending this year.
All told, Elmwood Park Zoo is one of Norristown’s most beneficial institutions – and that’s before even considering the contributions made each and every day that can’t be explained in numbers and figures – like joy, connection, and education. This year, Elmwood Park Zoo became the first zoo in the nation to become an Autism-certified center, and the zoo’s incredible “Touch Tours” for blind and visually impaired learners has expanded to include children with auditory impairments.
This confluence of culture, education and commerce is not lost on prospective area business either: a new Royal Farms market is being constructed less than 1,000 ft from the zoo’s entrance, and Crazy Aaron’s Putty World plans to pull from the zoo’s child-centric audience when it opens in Norristown later this year.
Having a robust, operating non-profit is one of the greatest assets a municipality can have: not only does it draw visitors as a tourism destination, provide jobs and proliferate culture, but also the impressive commerce it creates doesn’t get siphoned off as profit to a few people – it actually goes back into the community.
When Elmwood Park Zoo succeeds, Norristown succeeds; and if fully supported and enabled to grow –Norristown stands on the precipice of true revitalization.