ANNAPOLIS – Despite layoffs looming for many dot-com and telecommunications employees, Maryland’s nonprofit sector is thriving and some state lawmakers are trying to keep it that way.
Two bills before the Maryland General Assembly would bolster the continued growth of nonprofits by creating a nonprofit development program. The House Economic Matters Committee will hear testimony on the House bill today.
The state is maintaining a solid job growth rate, averaging 2.5 percent per year, according to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Part of that success is due to the state’s growth in nonprofit organization employment.
“The nonprofit sector in Maryland is a very important part of the economy and is one of the more rapidly growing pieces of the economy,” said Peter Berns, executive director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.
Nonprofit employment grew by 35 percent from 1989 to 1999, compared with a 9.7 percent increase for government and private sector employment, Berns said.
The proposed Maryland Nonprofit Sector Development Center Program, which would provide grants and technical assistance and training, is designed to continue that growth. It would be similar to a small business development program, but it would target nonprofit corporations ineligible for federal small business funds.
In 1995, the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations supported legislation to fund a nonprofit development program through the existing program, but the bill was eventually tabled because of the restricted federal funds.
“The majority of nonprofits are organizations that would qualify as small businesses in terms of how many employees they have,” said Berns.
The state encourages for-profit development more than nonprofit, despite the jobs produced and needs met by nonprofits, said Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, sponsor of the current and 1995 House bills.
“Everybody wants to encourage business development in their state . . . but what most states do not do is recognize the importance of the not-for-profit sector,” he said.
At the end of 1999, 202,635 in Maryland were employed by nonprofits, up from 195,000 in 1998, Berns said.
Nonprofit companies employ 8 percent of Maryland’s workforce, according to the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.
“They’re terrific job producers,” said Barve, who also favors high-tech business development. “People don’t typically think of it as a sector of the economy to encourage, but it’s something we can’t afford to forget.”
Testimony on the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Delores Kelley, D- Baltimore County, will be heard by the Senate Finance Committee Feb. 14.