York County’s creative and outdoor sectors collectively employ more than 8,000 York County residents and are resilient engines of York County’s economy, with employment growing 30% in the last decade alone. We need a more robust infrastructure to invest in our arts, culture and outdoor spaces and the organizations that support them so we can increase their economic impact even further.
That’s the short but sweet conclusion of a report released jointly by the York County Economic Alliance and the Cultural Alliance of York County last week.
Together we have partnered to launch a comprehensive study aimed at mapping the cultural and outdoor resources present in York County, quantifying the scale and impact of the sectors they support, and reviewing best practices to better invest in the preservation and expansion of these assets . This study was conducted by Fourth Economy Consulting, with whom the YCEA first worked to develop York County’s 10-year 2020 Economic Action Plan (EAP).
In fact, this joint study was a key recommendation of the York County Economic Action Plan’s Site Quality Working Group and is consistent with the EAP’s broader goal of transforming our county’s economic strategy to a place-based and people-centric approach. Rather than sitting on a shelf, the EAP should arm our community with strategic recommendations to better support the people, organizations and businesses that support York County’s creative and leisure economies.
While there are similarities and significant overlaps between the cultural and outdoor sectors, there are also a number of differences including the way units are organized within the sectors and how each sector has fared during the COVID pandemic .
York’s outdoor sector
First and foremost, York County’s outdoor sector is large and growing rapidly. From previous studies, we know that at the statewide level, outdoor recreation generates $29 billion annually, employs 251,000 Pennsylvanians and supports 7,730 businesses.
In York County, 5,240 York County residents are employed in the outdoor economy — a 14% increase since 2010. This number is higher than York County’s real estate, finance and insurance employment numbers combined. The outdoor industry in York generates at least 135 million US dollars each year in wages alone.
These statistics do not include the restaurants, lodging and other services that derive a portion of their revenue from outdoor visitors. And we know there are many – from the Jackson House B&B on the Heritage Rail Trail in Railroad to Forry’s Drive-in right next to Pinchot State Park and its popular campground. This is also the logic behind the York County Trail Towns program, which YCEA launched in 2020 and is now active in seven communities alongside trails, parks and other outdoor facilities.
Speaking of state parks, Governor Wolf announced in late September the creation of York County’s fourth state park: Susquehanna Riverlands State Park on 1,100 acres of land at the confluence of Codorus Creek and the Susquehanna River. This is a critical development for our outdoor economy as York County’s existing three state park units host 2 million visitors each year, generate $44 million in consumer spending and sustain 420 jobs. This aligns with the statistic that every dollar invested in public land returns $12 to the local and state economy.
The new park is a reminder that we can and should continue to invest in new outdoor assets, including parks, trails and protected open spaces, so that we can continue to grow our outdoor sector, including by evaluating new funding mechanisms used in others Communities and refined were outlined in the report.
This is not to say that the report shows only positive trends. One worrying data point is that the average job in York County’s outdoor sector makes just over $30,000 (compared to our county’s living wage of $33,000), meaning the sector earns, on average, no creates family-sustaining jobs. This is in large part due to the high number of seasonal and part-time jobs within the sector, but also demonstrates a compelling opportunity to build better workforce development pathways for the outdoor sector; expand the number of outdoor jobs in manufacturing and business ownership; and promoting participation in outdoor recreational activities at a level that can provide more full-time employment opportunities throughout the year.
York’s cultural sector
Like our outdoor economy, our cultural community in York is large, with 105 distinct cultural partners spread across our cities and neighborhoods identified in this report. This is vital to our local economy: creatives can revitalize a local economy much faster than other sectors because they are independent and unaffected by supply chains and other issues.
$0.83 for every dollar invested in an artist goes back to York’s supply, rental and other stores. Costs. For art groups, it’s a $7 return for every $1 invested. And every cultural event ticket sold generates an additional $28 in local revenue. It’s an $18 million economic boost for York County communities every year.
Our heritage mix is diverse, with live performances from groups like the OrangeMite Shakespeare Theatre, music festivals like Gusa World Music and heritage tourism programs at Dill’s Tavern in Northern York are just some of the offerings that attract thousands of residents and visitors each year .
Unlike the outdoor economy during the pandemic, which saw a 20% increase in usage, our cultural community has been hit hard, with high unemployment rates and falling revenues. With local, state and national aid funding supporting these groups until they fully reopen, this study shows our arts sector has recovered significantly, many of them hiring 1-4 full-time employees in 2022.
As these report findings illustrate, outdoor cultural and recreational facilities make a tremendous contribution to the quality of life of the communities in which they are located, from increased tourism, economic development and job creation to increased community pride, civic engagement and attraction to talent .
In York County, most investments in arts and culture come from private philanthropists and individual donors. Investment in outdoor assets has been much more diverse, with significant public investment in specific assets, such as B. the County Park System, but much more diverse sources of funding, such as the Heritage Rail Trail. Finding funding for operations and maintenance has been an ongoing struggle for both sectors, even though the vast majority of companies have solid revenues. We wanted to find out how other communities similar to York support these essential quality of life values that make their area an attractive place to live and invest.
We identified six communities across the country that are making significant public investments in their cultural and outdoor spaces, and examined the pros and cons of their strategies. These findings will help us create a roadmap to follow to further investigate how York County can choose to support these assets in a systematic and sustainable way for generations to enjoy.
As our community leaders explore the national case studies in more detail and consider whether either of these approaches would be appropriate for York County, we encourage York residents to learn more about the 270 outdoor and cultural assets in your backyard by viewing our interactive ecosystem map and Read the full report at www.culturalyork.org.
Kelley Gibson is President of the Cultural Alliance of York County. Silas Chamberlin is Vice President for Economic and Community Development at the York County Economic Alliance.