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Story of Impact: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

by Mary Erin Casale
This case study is part of MANP’s Stories of Impact series highlighting the many ways Maine’s nonprofits are essential to a strong and healthy Maine.  

The Impact

The word ‘garden’ doesn’t typically incite thoughts of major economic development – especially in Maine, a state with a notoriously short summer and a highly unpredictable climate. However, the CMBG LogoCoastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) is proving those assumptions wrong. Founded in 2007, the CMBG is the largest public garden in northern Maine, encompassing 270 acres, including one mile of tidal shorefront. Their mission is to protect, preserve, and enhance the botanical heritage and natural landscapes of coastal Maine for people of all ages through horticulture, education, and research.

In the last 8 years of unprecedented growth, there has been the added impact of a myriad of economic effects of the Gardens’ operations. While defining their 20 year strategic plan, CMBG decided it was imperative to quantify these benefits with actual data. They commissioned an economic and fiscal impact report from Planning Decisions Inc. (PDI) that would detail the three measurable financial impacts of the Gardens: its operational spending, its capital spending, and the spending of its visitors.

What they found for fiscal year 2014 alone surpassed expectations. CMBG:

  • Provided 90 jobs and expended $1.6 million in salary and benefits for their employees
  • Disbursed $1.5 million on non-payroll expenses to 575 separate vendors, most located in Lincoln County, and the vast majority within Maine
  • Spent $500,000 on capital improvements to expand and repair the grounds
  • Generated $16.2 million in spending in the area economy as a result of the 105,000 visitors
  • Created a total economic impact* of $26.3 million dollars, supporting the equivalent of over 340 full-time jobs**
*Total economic impact is based on the total sales to area businesses attributable to CMBG-related activities, plus the spending of visitors, and the indirect impacts based on the IMPLAN model for Lincoln County.
**See the Story Behind the Impact for more information.

The Story Behind the Impact

Photo Credit Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Photo Credit Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) were first imagined in 1991 by a group of mid-coast residents who were determined to create a botanical garden in Maine. These founders were so dedicated to this idea that in order to purchase the initial 128 acres of land in Boothbay, they used their own homes as collateral. After sixteen years of devoted work by the initial group of founders and supporters, the Gardens opened to the public in 2007 and welcomed 35,000 visitors – far exceeding their initial projections. Today, the Gardens occupy 270 acres, welcome over 105,000 visitors per year from around the world, and feature Maine’s largest and “greenest” LED light show, “Gardens Aglow.”

Kids at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Photo Credit Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

CMBG credits their success to providing a transformative experience for visitors of all ages. “It’s not like other botanical gardens. The design has something unexpected around every corner,” said Kris Folsom, Director of Marketing. During their original expansion, CMBG was strategic in creating an experience that would reach a broader segment of Maine. The addition of the Alfond Children’s Garden had a marked effect and the visitor audience shifted from women older than 55 to young families. “Our gardens have something for everyone,” said Folsom. Their staffing levels and operational spending have increased dramatically, with growth of more than 300% over the past 8 years.

 It was evident they had something unique that met the founders’ original purpose and provided a much needed economic boost to the Lincoln County area. When embarking on the creation of their 20 year strategic plan, CMBG enlisted the help of Planning Decisions Inc. (PDI) and commissioned an economic impact study. As committed community members, CMBG wanted to measure the impact to the Boothbay Region and to the State.

PDI measured the direct impact of the Gardens by calculating its operational spending, its capital spending, and the spending of its visitors. These expenditures have a ripple effect throughout the region that adds up to a huge economic impact. They determined the direct spending on employees and vendors for capital improvements. But, taking it a step further, they measured the impact on area businesses patronized by CMBG visitors, the indirect suppliers of goods and services to these regional businesses, and were also able to estimate the taxes and fees that municipal and state government receive as a result of this economic activity.

In short, the total economic impact of CMBG on Lincoln County in 2014 (including total sales to area businesses attributable to Gardens-related activities plus their indirect impacts) amounted to approximately $26.3 million. This spending supported the full-time equivalent of over 340 jobs earning $11.3 million in pay and benefits.[i]

Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Gardens Aglow, Photo Credit Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Maine is first and foremost a summer destination, but in keeping with their history of being visionaries, CMBG wants to enlarge that. They began by extending the shoulder seasons, with enhanced spring tulip displays and programs. This winter was their first significant cold weather event, Gardens Aglow, where the grounds became the largest holiday light display in Maine with over 150,000 LED lights. The construction work outlined in the initial phase of the 20 year plan (including a possible conservatory and larger welcome center) will focus on using local vendors and workers, with plans that would accommodate 300,000 visitors. The economic impact numbers are likely to continue to grow.

By providing a transformative experience for visitors that results in joy and learning, CMBG is able to fulfill its original objectives. Yet CMBG persists in creating new opportunities for growth not only to the Gardens, but to the greater Boothbay Region, the county, the region, and the state. Their commitment to imagination and creativity, all the while demonstrating measurable and innovative economic impact, secures this nonprofit’s reputation as a premiere destination in Maine.

[i] To estimate these indirect impacts flowing from CMBG-related activities, PDI used the IMPLAN models of Lincoln County and the State of Maine. This allowed them to estimate the number of additional hours necessary to support the spending. In terms of supported jobs, they are best thought of as hours supported by the spending rather than specific jobs for specific people.

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