In 2014 Scientology approached the Florida State University and requested a study be done on the organization’s economic impact on Clearwater.
This study can be seen in it’s entirety here:
November of 2014 Mike Rinder wrote an excellent blog post about the study and its ability to be accurate based upon the fact that Scientology provided the data used in the study.
While there are those already familiar with the study and it’s potential flaws, the increased number of Never Ins since The Aftermath aired who may not be aware of this issue makes revisiting the subject necessary. Especially as Scientology is continuing to point to this questionable document to bolster its claims of contribution to the city of Clearwater in order to sway public opinion.
As stated in Rinder’s blog, the most important thing to keep in mind is that rather than perform research using unbiased material, FSU used information provided by Scientology.
In the most recent edition of Scientology’s Freedom Magazine an article entitled The Big Picture states “In 2014 a team of Florida State University economists, led by Julie Harrington, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, scrutinized the Church’s financial reports (publicly available data), conducted interviews, surveys and much more.”
In other words, FSU had the same information to work with as Scientology publicly tells everyone.
For instance, the study begins with some statistics.
“…about 10,000 Scientology parishioners currently reside in the Tampa Bay area.”
This figure is not obtained from any census or other official documentation. Rather the footnote clearly states that the figure was obtained from “Personal Communication, Ms. Pat Harney, Church Public Affairs Director, February 4, 2014.”
So too all of the other data used to form the conclusions of this study, “The historical (actual data from years 1999-2013) was provided by the Church of Scientology’s CPA firm, NSBN LLP5.”
Thirteen years worth of data spread across six counties.
Construction on the Flag Building began in 1998 and was completed in 2011. According to a 2013 ABC News article the estimated construction costs for that building alone ran around $145 million.
The Big Picture admits that the data pertaining to the major construction projects during the time mentioned in the study was used.
“By 2013, the Church had built, purchased and renovated 1.9 million square feet of space—that includes the 377,000-square-foot Flag Building. The FSU economists’ calculation of direct capital outlay and construction impact from 2007 to 2013 was $282 million, most of which went to local contractors and construction workers.”
If this figure is part of the data being used in coming to the end conclusion, given that this enormous project has ended the data has certainly changed for the years following the study. With the addition of the huge building costs from those years the final figures would be higher then than in 2019. Equally the claim of providing jobs for the community as well as COS’ claim of utilizing local businesses.
Given Scientology’s penchant for exaggeration, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Miscavige had each employee of each contractor used on the project counted as Scientology providing additional jobs for the community while each contractor company would be added as COS patronizing local businesses.
Everyone involved with the Flag Project alone would be included as data.
Further, it is vital to differentiate between the area in question in the study and the area Scientology wants people to believe their financial contributions benefit.
The study notes it covers six counties; Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Hernando, Pasco and Polk.
“The project undertaken by FSU CEFA involved data compilation and economic impact analysis of the Church of Scientology on Clearwater and surrounding counties.”
In The Big Picture, the writer leads his readers to believe that the benefits are focused on Clearwater.
“The team’s findings found the Church’s economic impact in Clearwater to be a big positive for every Clearwater citizen. The Church’s impact on the Tampa Bay Area, according to the report, was just shy of $917 million a year. That’s almost $1 billion into the hands of business owners and contractors, restaurant servers and technocrats, small shop owners and aspiring tycoons.”
The fact is that it is not almost $1 billion for Clearwater, or even for the entirety of Pinellas County. That money reflects six separate counties which brings the figure to an average of around $152 million per county if these figures are even correct.
One of the contributions listed in the study is Scientologists visiting Clearwater and the economic impact these visitors have on the local business community. One graph shows that Flag religious retreats are by far (57 percent) the top contender for lodging on a visit. This points towards lodging dollars flowing into the city as these visitors attend courses. Here too, one must consider current reality. The Ft. Harrison Hotel is for the exclusive use of Scientologists on their so-called religious retreats.
Due to the massive construction projects “Among the properties renovated, restored or constructed were the Oak Cove and Fort Harrison religious retreats and the Flag Building. The increased capabilities of Flag in turn has drawn more Scientologists to Clearwater: some 27,000 Scientologists—15,000 of whom are now residents of Clearwater and neighboring towns, and others who travel from distant states and lands to receive religious services and education.”
There are other Scientology or Scientologist owned businesses including restaurants and condos utilized by visiting members. Monies spent BY Scientologists FOR Scientologists can hardly be labeled as a benefit for the wider Clearwater community. Those members staying at the Ft. Harrison Hotel or one of the other Scientologist owned properties cannot be counted as majorly contributing to regular tourist dollars. This is not to say the Scientologist visitors do not contribute at all, the question is the accuracy of those contributions post 2013.
Scientology has a gift for misdirection and sleight of hand when it comes to painting itself in the best possible light. While urging their audience to believe their contributions to Clearwater are of epically monumental proportions they use for comparison entities not of Clearwater at all.
“The Church’s impact exceeded such entities as the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team ($122 million), the Tampa cruise ship industry ($380 million) and the University of Tampa ($750 million). The impact of NASA’s Florida operations was computed at $900 million.”
The current issue of Freedom Magazine is filled with glowing facts and figures all stemming from the 2013 FSU research study. It would be an excellent idea for the reader to remember that the study was done six years ago and was based upon data supplied for the most part by Scientology. A portion of the data stems from massive building and renovation projects that are no longer a part of the equation and are therefore no longer relevant to the present.
Finally, while Scientology is pushing the current Miscavige Propaganda Project, the henhouse would do well to remember to consider the source when faced with statistics supplied by the fox.