An increase in tourism and investment in the community are just a few of the contributing factors to the economic boom in mountain area businesses in 2014, according to the Julie Donovan.
As the vice president of public relations for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, Donovan said she sees a strong economic community in the region.
“I think business owners see that the demand for business is here. The amount of traffic into the Laurel Highlands region and the mountain area is astounding,” said Donovan.
“We promote our region everywhere, trying to get people to visit, whether they’re local or from farther away. And the more they’re investing in the community, the more we have to promote,” she said.
Last year, Ohiopyle State Park opened a new eco-friendly visitor center next to the falls. Construction was a prominent focal point for several months, making it a “weird year,” according to the park’s environmental education specialist Barb Wallace. She added, though, that programming attendance was regular and equally busy.
“The weather was nice last year, as was the river level,” said Wallace, noting that Ohiopyle’s success fringes on the temperature and weather for bikers and hikers, and a safe river level for those on the water.
Because many of the activities in the park are free, businesswoman Pam Kruse says tourists are more likely to spend money on things like food.
That might account for why her businesses, Falls Market and the Firefly Grill, flourished in 2014, she said.
“We did really, really well last summer,” Kruse said, adding that in just this past December, their revenue was up 50 percent from last year.
“The tourism is booming here, and the phenomenal bike trail is bringing more and more people in. That being said, we’re pretty consistent all year round,” she said.
Kruse and her team completed construction on an addition to Falls Market in September, opening is up to more bike and foot traffic.
“We used to look like an old gas station, but now we’re really excited about our new look. We hit the ground running and took off, and I’m hoping this next year is even better,” she said.
Donovan referred to Kruse as an example of investment in the community, especially along the Great Allegheny Passage.
“She obviously saw the need, got the funds, made good investments, and now look — her places are packed every summer and fall,” said Donovan. “It’s a positive thing when you continue to see investments in Ohiopyle and the mountain area. They’re investing because they’re seeing a return on their investment.”
“There’s no question that the beautiful landscape, outdoor opportunity and other cultural and historic sites in the mountains play an enormous role in our overall reason for visitors coming here,” she continued. “There’s so much in a relatively small area, from Falling Water to Fort Necessity, and from the Summit Inn to Touchstone Center for Crafts.”
Coming out of Ohiopyle and onto Route 40, businesses continued to experience the economic boom.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort general manager Chris Plummer said 2014 was a year of “positive growth.”
“Our overall revenue was great,” he said, adding that destination travelers enjoy coming to the Laurel Highlands region to experience something different. “The region in general is continuing to grow. There’s nowhere to go but up, especially at Nemacolin,” he said.
Nemacolin recently completed a $30 million renovation and are in talks with contractors for further business ventures, including a new hotel near Lady Luck Casino.
“Every year gets better and better, and the casino definitely played a role in that. The guests are loving it,” said Plummer.
A December 2014 news release from Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., the owner and operator of Lady Luck Casino, stated that “net revenues were $9 million, an increase of $1.6 million compared to the prior year quarter, which was the first full fiscal quarter of operation.”
“Adjusted EBITDA was ($0.4) million compared to ($1.3) million during the second quarter of the prior year. We continue to refine our marketing programs and cost structure at the property,” it continued. EBITDA is the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and is used to track profitability among fiscal quarters. 2014 was the casino’s first full year of business after opening in July 2013.
A bit further down Route 40, Curt’s Family Restaurant owner Curt Hager said they also had a great year. After neighboring eatery Lone Star Restaurant closed last summer, business picked up a bit, according to Curt.
In Chalkhill, the historic Stone House noted an increase in tourists that contributed to an “awesome year,” according to their director of sales and public relations, Christine Schaney.
Executive chef Jeremy Critchfield added that the business “grew 20 percent due in parts to continued commitment to great good and customer service.”
Critchfield also said the push for their catering service, “crazy increased demand” for his BBQ smoke house specials, local and tourist appreciation for his selection of American craft beer and optimization of online marketing contributed to a stellar 2014 .