Tourism is second largest industry in Washington County
Tourism is now the second largest industry in Washington County with only the agriculture industry being larger, Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, told a group of 50 or so people July 22 at the Peters Township Public Library.
According to Kotula, tourism is a $700 million plus industry for the county.
As expected, the Meadows Casino is the county’s top attraction, followed by Tanger Outlets. Before both of those places opened seven years earlier, tourism spending in Washington County was half of that.
“Racetrack Road has kind of become the county’s front door,” Kotula said, noting that the problem is how to market Racetrack Road as a tourist destination. And while the county’s top two attractions draw a lot of people, most come to both places for the day and do not spend the night.
“Most of the hotel stays are due to the oil and gas industry,” Kotula said, adding that 25 percent of Washington County’s gross economic output comes from the natural gas industry.
“Marcellus has been a game changer for the county,” said Kotula.
Since the natural gas boom hit the county, business at restaurants is up 10 to 20 percent. Even local jewelry stores have seen a spike in business.
“Those (natural gas) guys have wives or girlfriends – or both,” he joked.
Gaming revenue from the Meadows Casino has helped fund a number of tourist destinations in the county through a Washington County economic development account called a Local Share Account, which was established by the state’s Horse Race and Gaming Development Act. Washington County receives 2 cents for every dollar spent at the casino, as does North Strabane Township, Kotula said.
The LSA fund has helped pay for the renovation of the Canonsburg Town Park Pool and the Washington Park Pool, helped fund a new roof for the Donora Public Library and the renovation of the Monongahela Aquatorium.
“There has been $1 billion in new development in Washington County during the last 15 years,” Kotula said. “We’re trying to drive economic development through tourism.”
Most of the visitors who come to Washington County live within a one-to-three hour radius away and are either from the middle part of the state, the Columbus, Ohio, area, or West Virginia.
“They are usually coming to visit family or friends,” Kotula said.