Famous for its lush mountain landscape and pristine lakes and streams, northeastern Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains region has long been a place of escape and adventure for visitors looking to relax, rejuvenate and explore away from congested cities nearby. More than 26 million people travel to Poconos each year to ski, snowboard, hike, bike, kayak, fish, hunt or just enjoy nature. Tourism brings in more than $3 billion a year and supports nearly 50,000 jobs locally, but it is just one of the forces shaping the dynamic economy of this resort mountain community.
The region, which encompasses Monroe, Pike, Wayne and Carbon counties, is home to manufacturers that make vehicles, equipment, furniture and other products distributed worldwide as well as a life sciences sector that includes the world's largest vaccine producer, Sanofi Pasteur. Many of the region's top employers are firms built by people who vacationed in the area and loved it so much they moved their companies there, says Chuck Leonard, executive director of the Poconos Mountains Economic Development Corporation. Along with its spectacular nature and limitless recreation, the region's location between New York and Philadelphia offers close proximity to major markets without the cost or hassles of operating out of them.
“Businesses can operate at a lower cost here than New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or Massachusetts and keep more of their money,” Leonard says. “Their taxes are lower, yet they still have access to those marketplaces – and it is easy to get to them because of our excellent highway system.”
Positioned for Business
Major interstates such as 80, 380, 84, 476 run through the area, and I-81 is minutes away. As expected for the birthplace of the the first commercial steam locomotive, the region has miles of railways with local short-line carriers that connect to Class I service via Norfolk Southern, CSX and Canadian Pacific Railway. This allows businesses shipping freight to negotiate the best possible rate. The region also offers an abundance of business parks and shovel-ready industrial sites, including new speculative buildings under construction in Monroe County and Wayne County's new Sterling Business & Technology Park, which features a state-of-the-art water conservation system. These assets are attracting a growing number of businesses looking to expand their reach in Northeast or relocate, especially manufacturing firms, which have continued to grow in the region despite their decline nationally.
“People are reaching out and looking to this area because they are familiar with it, they like the quality of life, and they realize that if they can support their business here, they want to be here,” says Mary Beth Wood, executive director the Wayne Economic Development Corporation.
Upon arrival, businesses can easily find skilled workers to meet their needs, from veterans to graduates of local technical institutes and nearby colleges. The region is known for its strong school systems and workforce development partnerships.
“Employers here rate their workforce among the best in their operations,” Leonard says.
Entrepreneurship runs deep in the region, which is home to innovators such as power brush and abrasives manufacturer Weiler Corporation, children's magazine publisher Highlights for Children and concrete form fabricator Architectural Polymers. Entrepreneurs can find a rich network of resources to support their growth. The Stourbridge Project in Honesdale offers coworking space, high-speed broadband, and 3D printers and other advanced technology equipment, while East Stroudsburg University's Innovation Center provides tech startups with mentoring and capital through its business accelerator.
Best of All Worlds
With technology access and amenities growing in the region, more companies are seeing the Pocono Mountains as a destination for business as well as a vibrant place for attracting and retaining talent.
“They like the unspoiled nature that we have,” says Kathy Henderson, director of economic development for the Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corporation.
Living in the area means hiking through national parks, fishing on the Upper Delaware River, watching NASCAR at the Pocono Raceway and skiing on some of the state's best slopes one day, and driving to the Lehigh Valley or a major city nearby the next to shop, dine, catch a hockey game or attend a Broadway show. With specialty health care, resorts and attractions growing in the Poconos, people are finding even more reasons to stay.
“We are fond of saying that you get two paychecks for working in the Poconos: the first is the one you get from an employer, the second is the privilege of living here,” says Carl Wilgus, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
“People used to gravitate to where the jobs were; now they are discovering where they want to live first and finding the jobs or creating them,” he says. “That bodes well for destinations like ours.”