In 2019, the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership retained Garner Economics to create a Competitive Realities Report and Target Industry Strategy to focus its economic development efforts. After compiling data and analyzing qualitative and quantitative factors, the following industry families were chosen as optimal matches for Erie County’s unique, competitive advantages to the needs of particular industry sectors: Advanced Manufacturing, Life Sciences/Health Care, Food Processing/Agriculture, Year-Round Recreation, and Business Services.
Please note that all of this information is from the 2019 Competitive Realities report and Target Industry Strategy for Erie County, prepared for the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership by Garner Economics.
Food & Beverage Processing/Agriculture & Aquaculture
Erie County has multiple opportunities in the food and beverage processing industry as well as the agriculture and aquaculture sectors. Erie County ranked first in Pennsylvania for grape production and fifth for aquaculture. The target family seeks to leverage natural assets with aquaculture and extend growing with hydroponics and greenhouse crops for food processing. The presence of existing companies in this sector along with the availability of water and sewer treatment capacity and cost-effective natural gas make this segment a viable target for Erie County.
High-Value Business Services
High-Value Business Services covers myriad industries that could prosper in Erie County. The County can attract and grow several subsectors that focus on providing value to business and consumers. With good interstate access, commercial air service, and good quality of life, the County fares well in the ability to engage in commerce on a regional, national, and global level. Erie is known for insurance with the name-sake Erie Insurance among the major employers of the County. This has attracted other insurance operations, which are reflected in the high concentration of Direct Insurance employment. Insurance and Finance are strong sectors for Erie County and employ approximately 5,500 people.
Life Sciences/Health Care
Erie County is a great location for life science activity including clinical research and development, pharmaceutical operations, medical device manufacturing, medical and diagnostic laboratories, as well as related consulting firms. Healthcare companies figure prominently in the County’s major employers list. Health Care and Social Services is the County’s largest industry sector ranked by employment, and it grew by more than 1,000 in the past five years. With this existing talent plus adding in the higher education assets, Life Sciences is a good fit for Erie County.
High Value-Added Manufacturing
Manufacturing has been a large part of Erie County’s past and will continue to be a part of its future. This study found that the manufacturing assets and technologies present in the County are strong, and warrant continued focus for target marketing. Manufacturing is the second highest industry sector for employment with 19,000 workers and the second highest occupational category with more than 13,700 production workers as of 2018. The area has training institutions and programs that focus on manufacturing skills and innovation. Erie County also has plenty of resources for innovation aiding in its effort to meet and lead in the manufacturing sector.
Penn State Behrend’s plastics-specific program is one of only four accredited plastics engineering technology programs in the United States along with a multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art processing lab. Entrepreneurial activity such as Innovation Commons’ prototyping lab and engineering support adds to a well-rounded approach. Several subsectors have a strong presence in Erie County already particularly relating to transportation. Donjon Shipbuilding controls the largest shipyard of its kind on the Great Lakes, and GE Transportation, recently acquired by Wabtec Corporation, is building locomotives in Erie. To complete the transportation picture, aerospace and automotive suppliers are also a fit for Erie County with the plastic, rubber, and metalworking assets.
Year-Round Experiential Recreation
The experiential economy is a big part of the growth in hospitality and recreation. From retailers to tour guides and restaurateurs to sports venues, the effort to give visitors an experience they can’t get at home is key. Building on existing assets to create an elevated experience will enhance Erie County for visitors, residents, and future residents. Erie County is a popular destination in warmer months drawing people to Lake Erie. One of the focus points in this target is to extend this activity and build year-round recreation opportunities. Various subsectors for this target include Boutique Retail, Outdoor/Indoor Year-Round Recreation, and Ecotourism.