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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming's charitable nonprofit sector grew at a faster rate between 1990 and 2000 than nearly every other industry in the state, according to economic data.

Wyoming charities spent $363 million in 2000, an amount that exceeded the gross state products of farming, durable goods manufacturing, trucking and warehousing, federal military spending, and other better-known industries, according to federal and state data.

Gaining respect Such organizations merit respect and the same consideration as businesses in economic development decisions, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said.

"At this stage, the nonprofit sector is a business," Freudenthal said. "The notion that a nonprofit isn't a business confuses it with government."

Wyoming has 5,200 nonprofit organizations registered with the Secretary of State's Corporations Division. About 2,000 are public charities.

Wyoming's rate of creating new public charities from 1992 to 1998 was among the top 10 states.

Likewise, charities' revenues rose 88 percent, compared with the state's 22 percent growth in the private sector, during this time, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Sector's "New Nonprofit Almanac."

The Urban Institute reported that the assets of nonprofit charities in Wyoming rose 267 percent, from $300 million in 1990 to $1.1 billion in 2000, and expenditures quadrupled to $363 million during that time.

However, the Urban Institute does not have information on the number of jobs created by charitable nonprofits, said Stan Waringo, a research associate for the Institute.

High growth rates Wyoming's number of nonprofits, their assets and expenditures are low compared with similar rural states, but their growth rates are higher than other states, Waringo said.

The charitable nonprofit sector comprises a significant part of other states' economies — up to 10 percent of the gross state product in New York and California, he said.

In Wyoming, the $363 million figure is about 2.2 percent of the $16.7 billion private sector component of the 2000 gross state product.

Yet the $363 million figure represents a larger sector of the economy than farming at $340 million, durable goods manufacturing at $261 million, trucking and warehousing at $265 million, communications at $341 million, hotels and lodging at $248 million, and federal military spending at $273 million.

Despite the size and growth of nonprofit charities, representatives of nonprofit corporations have been excluded from the Wyoming Business Council.

The state law establishing the Business Council states, "The appointed directors shall have demonstrated leadership and business expertise."

Freudenthal has said he does not believe the law would restrict him from appointing representatives of nonprofits to the Business Council board.

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The law requires leadership and business experience, which are qualities of many nonprofit organization employees, Freudenthal said. "It doesn't say where they get their money or who they work for."

Michelle Sullivan told the Wyoming Heritage Foundation's annual economic forum recently that charitable nonprofit organizations will gain respect as Wyoming learns about their economic impact, as well as the amenities they offer to the state's quality of life.

"The potential for developing nonprofits is huge," said Sullivan, vice president of the Sheridan office of the Denver-based Daniels Fund, which is a foundation that offers grants and scholarships in the Rocky Mountain Region.

Nonprofit organizations provide jobs, provide new and cutting-edge services, and offer more diverse opportunities for young people to move to Wyoming, she said.

The information from Independent Sector and the Urban Institute shows even more than that, Sullivan said.

"Ultimately, we need to be thinking about economic development in broader terms," she said.

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