Erie: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Erie has a diverse economy, which helps buffet it against national downturns. Manufacturing jobs make up more than one-quarter of the Erie area workforce. Erie has the highest concentration of toolmakers of any place in the nation. More than 10 percent of the nation's plastics injection molding is done in Erie, and four of the nation's top 50 plastics companies are located there. Products in well over 135 different classifications are made in Erie. Erie is also a major retail center, drawing shoppers from the tri-state area and Canada. Major service providers include the headquarters of Erie Insurance Group, large regional hospitals, several telemarketing companies, and the Gertrude Barber Center. Erie has a large tourism industry with visitors drawn by the beaches and unique nature of Presque Isle State Park, the U.S. Brig Niagara, a maritime museum, and other historical and recreational attractions. Agriculture is still a viable industry; Erie County produces cherries and grapes.

Items and goods produced: plastics products, locomotives, boilers, engines, meters, turbines, castings, forgings, pipe equipment, motors, diesel engines, paper, grapes, cherries

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The Erie Area Chamber of Commerce is the first stop for companies considering relocating or expanding to the Erie area. The Chamber sends information and sits down with company representatives to determine their needs; it serves as a clearinghouse and referral agent to other businesses and agencies that can help with commercial real estate, financing, business planning, and regulations. The Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program was designed in 2002. The city, school district, and county adopted ordinances to provide for a beneficial investment incentive for commercial and residential properties throughout the city of Erie. The ordinances provide for a 10-year period of 100 percent eligible tax exemption.

State programs

Funding programs offered by the state include bond financing, grants, loans and loan guarantees, tax credits and abatements, and technical assistance. The Key-stone Opportunity Zone has designated some areas as exempt from state and local business taxes; these areas will remain virtually tax-exempt until 2013. The state's Job Creation Tax Credits program provides $1,000-per-job tax credit to approved businesses that agree to create jobs within three years.

Job training programs

State funding provides for programs such as Customized Job Training, School-to-Work initiatives, and the Dislocated Workers Unit. In Erie, the Regional Occupational Skill Center offers training in such areas as basic machining, tool-and-die pre-apprenticeships, and industrial maintenance. Northwest Pennsylvania Technical Institute offers technical training "without walls" in partnership with local colleges and other educational institutions. Training is based on worker needs and industry specifications.

Development Projects

Warner Theatre, showcase for the performing arts in Erie, recently completed renovations designed to upgrade the facility, as well as preserve its historical character. In addition to the restoration of the opulent furnishings that make the theater a community landmark, the loading dock was expanded and the stage area was improved. Erie's landmark downtown Boston Store (with its famous clock) was renovated to include affordable apartments and numerous offices. It is also home of the Erie Chamber of Commerce and several locally owned radio stations where disc jockeys can be observed through the windows.

More than $25 million in federal and state funding has been obtained by the city, including $12 million for Erie's new Bayfront Convention Center as well as $5 million from the governor's economic surplus package for the next phase of improvements of the Koehler Brewery Square. The convention center is expected to be completed by 2007 and will provide an additional 120,000 square feet of exhibit and convention space to the already existing three-building Civic Center Complex. A hotel will also be added.

New home construction increased by 538 percent in 2003 with the residential Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program. The development of a new Wal-Mart was negotiated in a vacant plaza on the east side of town, which created more than 300 jobs and additional reinvestment in what had been a blighted neighborhood.

Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort, Pennsylvania's only indoor water park, opened in February 2003. This resort complex comprises the water park and a Lazer Tag arena, as well as numerous hotels from which guests can access the park without having to go outside. Ground was broken in 2002 for the 58,000-square-foot Tom Ridge Center at Presque Isle State Park. The recently completed facility serves as a new regional learning, research, and visitor-information facility directly outside the park entrance.

Erie's Intermodal Transportation Center was officially opened in November 2002. The $8.9-million project serves as a hub for many modes of transportation, including buses, taxi cabs, limousines, and bicycle. The 33,500-square-foot heated space also provides parking for 151 vehicles. Plans are underway for a $53-million runway expansion at the Erie International Airport, Tom Ridge Field.

Economic Development Information: Erie Area Chamber of Commerce, 208 E. Bayfront Parkway, Suite 100, Erie, PA, 16507; telephone (814)454-7191; fax (814)459-0241

Commercial Shipping

The Port of Erie, Pennsylvania's only lake port, handles imports and exports through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Coast and is a major distribution center for shipping and receiving goods to and from foreign countries.

Erie is served by Conrail, some 60 truck and motor freight companies, and several air cargo companies, providing convenient access to large metropolitan centers throughout the United States and Ontario, Canada. Interstates 79 and 90, intersecting just south of the city, provide easy access to all points in the country.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Erie ranks high in the United States in the diversity of its industry and has a history of good labor-management relations. According to Mayor Richard Filippi, more than 1,000 new jobs were created in 2003, as well as more than 30 business startups.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Erie metropolitan labor force, 2004 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 131,100

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 4,800

manufacturing: 24,400

trade, transportation, and utilities: 22,700

information: 2,700

financial activities: 6,800

professional and business services: 11,200

educational and health services: 23,600

leisure and hospitality: 12,600

other services: 6,200

government: 16,200

Average hourly wage of production workers employed in manufacturing: $14.72

Unemployment rate: 4.9% (April 2005)

Erie: Economy

Largest employers (in Erie County) Number of employees
General Electric Company (locomotives, D.C. Motors) 5,500
St. Vincent Medical Center 2,700
Hamot Medical Center 2,500
Plastek Industries 2,000
Erie Insurance Group 1,750
Erie School District 1,425
Giant Eagle (supermarkets) 1,350

Cost of Living

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Erie area.

2004 ACCRA Average House Price: Not reported

2004 ACCRA Cost of Living Index: Not reported

State income tax rate: 3.07%

State sales tax rate: 6.0%

Local income tax rate: 1.0%

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: 49.45 mills per 100% of assessed value, which is typically 25 to 30% of market price (2004)

Economic Information: Erie Area Chamber of Commerce, 208 E. Bayfront Parkway, Suite 100, Erie, PA, 16501; telephone (814)454-7191; fax (814)459-0241