The business: Economic opportunities spring from teachings

YELM - When Ramtha's School of Enlightenment holds an event, local merchants usually see a bump in business.

"Generally, the boom comes before and after (the events)," said Cecelia Jenkins, executive director of the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce. "When they have their event, they stay there and eat at the ranch. But yes, they do come out (into) the community and buy their supplies."

This month, school officials reserved theaters at Yelm Cinemas for two private screenings of "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's global warming documentary, during a 10-day retreat that drew nearly 1,200 students.

And most people reported spending at least $20 a day in the community on food, supplies and incidentals, according to the school's survey.

The result?

An estimated $300,000 in incremental income for the South Sound business community, according to Steve Klein, the travel and logistics manager at the school.

The school hosts six weeklong retreats a year, as well as numerous one- and two-day events, at its 80-acre campus just outside the Yelm city limits.

City officials acknowledge that the school brings revenue to town, but say it's only one of several factors that play into the area's economic development.

"We also have a large population, commuter and tourist population that go through Yelm and also frequent those businesses," said city administrator Shelly Badger. "It's not that those businesses aren't busy without those sessions."

Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, which has operated for nearly 20 years, is the local business that gains the most financially, Jenkins said.

The school is a private, for-profit enterprise, a division of JZK Inc. It isn't within city limits, so the city does not receive business tax or property tax revenue, Badger said.

Students pay $1,300 to $1,500 a year for the classes.

On campus, they can shop at the bookstore, The Quantum Café, which carries all of the Ramtha books, videos and audio CDs as well as more than 1,500 other titles covering such topics as physics, neuroscience and philosophy.

There are food vendors and an espresso stand that operate at the ranch during the events.

Knight also has a store called the Outback Boutique in downtown Yelm. A second gift shop, to be called JK Rose, is slated to open this fall in Bellevue, Knight said.

The school's most recent survey showed that almost 120 students run their own businesses locally. In Yelm, Sebastian's Best Fine European Pastries & Delicious Natural Breads, Blue Bottle Espresso, and Elie Design jewelry shop are among them. The school also spurred the Drew Harvey Theater, which closed about a year ago after producing local shows for almost a decade.

In Rainier, Ramtha students operate the private, accredited Children's School of Excellence, which opened in the late 1990s, and the spouse of a Ramtha student runs an art school.

"It is attended by many students' children, and therefore we are able to use many of the disciplines (taught at Ramtha's School of Enlightenment)," said Diane D'Acuti, the school's language arts teacher and a longtime Ramtha student. The K-9 school has about 100 students.

In the early days, most of the students' businesses were in the Yelm area. But school officials say that's changing.

"Our student businesses have branched out - three acclaimed restaurants in Lacey and Olympia are of note," said Klein, referring to Basilico Ristorante Italiano and Cielo Blu in Olympia and Ricardo's Restaurant in Lacey.

Several students run Internet-based enterprises, including Stephany Ray of Rainier. She maintains mastersconnection.com, a Web site that's designed to keep Ramtha students in touch, no matter what part of the world they live in. Students can go to the site to find out which local businesses are owned by, or support, Ramtha students, Ray said.

The site also has an "orb gallery" and discussion forums on community meetings and other topics.

Ray hopes to launch a blog soon for students to share their research on quantum physics and other school-related materials.

She said she also hopes the site can be used to support Democrat, and fellow Ramtha student, Jean Marie Christenson's campaign for District 2 state representative.

Mastersconnection.com isn't sponsored by or affiliated with Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. But it is listed among the ramtha.com links, and Ray said she's grateful.

"I'm getting over 400,000 hits a month," Ray said. "The traffic is tremendous."