Saginaw Zoo: From Privation to Privatization

Click for audio Saginaw Zoo: From Privation to Privatization

If the animals at Saginaw Children’s Zoo could talk, they would agree with tens of thousands of smiling kids that the zoo’s many new educational exhibits and attractions are a lot of fun.

The animals might also say that privatization—the transfer of government-owned assets to the private sector—is the reason for the zoo’s recent success and the better care and feeding they now enjoy.

Animals can’t talk, of course, but visitors and employees alike are amazed at the zoo’s transition from a neglected, city-owned facility to a privatized powerhouse that draws eager families from across the state. How did it happen?

In 1996, Saginaw officials turned over the ailing zoo to a private, nonprofit association. Freed from city bureaucracy and politics, the zoo’s new, private management raised $2 million in private gifts to help hire seven more full-time workers, raise their wages, add 50 new animals, and improve the animals’ medical care and food preparation facilities.

As a result, paid annual attendance has jumped by more than 30,000, helping ensure the zoo’s self-sufficiency next year, when its subsidies end.

Saginaw Zoo’s success shows that privatization done right can lead to improved services, better jobs, and happy children.

For the Mackinac Center, this is Catherine Martin.