STOCKBRIDGE — They come to the Berkshires from all over the globe in their quest for benefits like health, wellness and balance.
Visitors to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health generate their share of benefits, as well — $56 million a year for the local economy.
The nonprofit wellness center is becoming one of the major economic engines in the fast-growing Berkshire County tourism sector, according to a study conducted by the Williams College Center for Creative Community Development.
"I was surprised by how big the impact is," said economics professor Stephen C. Sheppard, the author of the study. "They're an interesting organization at least for those of us that have spent a lot of time trying to understand the arts and culture sector."
Sheppard compiled the data this spring at Kripalu's request from information that the center provided from its guests. Surveys were sent out in late February to 50,000 email addresses provided by Kripalu, Sheppard said. The responses were received over a four-week period, with the data compiled in April and May.
"We got responses from over 1,700 prior guests and they were from all over (the world)," he said.
The report concluded that Kripalu guests generate $64 million in total economic activity across Massachusetts, with $56 million of that sum concentrated in the Berkshires.
Kripalu also generates $27 million directly and indirectly in labor income from its mix of 500 part-time and full-time employees, with all but $5 million of that sum concentrated in Berkshire County. Kripalu originally came to the Berkshires from Pennsylvania as a religious order in 1983, but reorganized as a nonreligious nonprofit in 1999.
Today, the center brings over 30,000 guests to the Berkshires annually for its facilities and programs. Based on its annual operating budget of $34 million to $35 million, Kripalu is the fifth-largest not-for-profit organization in Berkshire County, the report states. Located on the original site of Andrew Carnegie's mansion Shadowbrook, in a building originally built for use as a training center by Jesuits, Kripalu's total assets are valued at $50 million, the report said.
"The Berkshires has always been a destination for health, wellness and culture," said Shaun Kelleher, director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce. "It's so wonderful to see that Kripalu is not only helping its patrons to step back and take some time for themselves, but also helping our local economy in such a huge way. The work they are doing is so valuable to its attendees and our community alike. I'm so thrilled to see Kripalu recognized in this way."
The figures compiled through Sheppard's research provide context to what the center's officials already believed to be true, said Kripalu CEO Barbara Vacarr.
"It was clear from an intuitive place within Kripalu that there is a huge impact that we have on the local community and the relationship hasn't been told," said Vacarr, who assumed her current position in 2016. "I was very interested in telling that story.
"What the numbers were I couldn't have guessed at but I had a sense we were impacting in a way that was not fully known," she said. "What it reflects back to us is Kripalu should be a catalyst for local economic health. ... The synergistic relations are what I really want to focus on."
Sheppard's center, C3D, has previously compiled similar economic impact reports for other Berkshire leisure and hospitality venues including Tanglewood in Lenox, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, and the Colonial Theatre and Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.
"It's actually a pretty big impact," Sheppard said of Kripalu's economic power. "That's on the same level as Mass MoCA and places like that. ... I knew they were important but I had no idea they generated that kind of economic impact."
"Mass MoCA is in the low $50 millions in terms of economic impact," Sheppard said. "The difference is Kripalu casts a very wide net. They're getting about 30,000 guests a year although only a really small percentage (about 3 percent) come from Berkshire County."
Twenty-eight percent of Kripalu's visitors last year came from the state of Massachusetts, while 72 percent came from outside the state with the majority living in the Northeast. Sheppard also received a "modest" number of email survey responses from guests who live in Hawaii, Europe, the Far East and the Middle East.
Other key findings:
- The labor income generated by Kripalu supports as many as 670 part-time and full-time jobs in hundreds of economic sectors throughout the Berkshires, with the largest numbers coming in educational services, lodging, retail, real estate and restaurants. Kripalu annually offers more than 700 programs.
"The total number of jobs surprised me," Sheppard said. "They employ a lot of people."
- Average annual earnings by those employed at Kripalu are an estimated $33,000 to $42,000 per year. Nearly 79 percent of Kripalu's employees live in Berkshire County.
- Kripalu directly and indirectly generates $7.5 million annually in tax revenue for state and local governments. That figure includes more than $2.2 million in residential property taxes paid by Kripalu guests that have either bought or maintained homes to be near the center.
Kripalu's influence on the community goes beyond the numbers, Sheppard said.
"To me, it's part of this broader story," he said. "One thing we're really good at in the Berkshires is producing experiences for people. And these are experiences they get by traveling to the Berkshires. Whether it's going to Williams, a seminar or Kripalu, I think that they're the kind that have become a dominant industry for Berkshire County."
Business editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6224.