HARRISBURG — What had been a huge spinach farm five decades ago on the Pocono Plateau is now producing another kind of green — and plenty of it.
An economic impact analysis shows that Pocono Raceway generated $257.5 million in 2013 and is expected to generate $277 million this year.
The report, commissioned by the raceway and conducted by two East Stroudsburg University professors, showed the raceway also generated almost $15 million in tax revenue for the state and another $8 million in tax revenue for local and federal governments. The raceway is off Route 115 near Long Pond.
Speaking at the ceremony held at the capitol rotunda in Harrisburg on Monday, Gov. Tom Corbett said the raceway “is a driving force.”
“It is igniting economic opportunities for the communities surrounding the racetrack,” Corbett said. He added its three marquee race weekends — two NASCAR races and one Indy car race — are “the equivalent of hosting the Super Bowl in Pennsylvania every year.”
The 2.5-mile triangular track on its three race weekends attracts hundreds of thousands of race fans each year who stay in local hotels, shop at area retailers, eat at area restaurants and fill up their tanks at area gas stations.
In addition, the Pocono name — already a known brand to millions thanks to its days as a honeymoon and vacation destination in the 20th century — gets plenty of airtime and new coverage throughout the week leading up to each race.
Prior to this latest analysis, the most recent economic data on Pocono Raceway were from a 2006 study commissioned by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and conducted by the research firm Buchart Horn Inc./BASCO Associates. That study relied on attendance figures and daily expenses from the two 2005 NASCAR races.
That report showed that Pocono Raceway’s regional economic impact has exceeded $363 million.
The study was based on interviews, state police traffic reports, overnight expenditures, day trip expenditures and Department of Revenue sales tax figures from Luzerne, Lackawanna, Carbon, Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties. Tax figures came from food and drinking establishments, gas stations, hotels and motels for June and July.
Much has changed since then. The track has added a NASCAR Camping World Truck series race and an IndyCar Series race to its summer lineup. The nation also underwent its worst recession in decades leading to the Greater Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area having the highest unemployment rate in the state for 45 months and counting.
The racetrack conducted its own study in 1998 and showed $158 million was the track’s economic impact at the time. Raceway President Brandon Igdalsky said the study reveals what many already knew. But having a detailed report is important when lobbying the state for funding for area improvements, he said.
Route 115 improvements
During the ceremony Monday, Corbett announced $5 million in transportation funds would be allocated to a road-widening project on Route 115 between Route 903 and the raceway to improve traffic flow.
Professors Todd Behr and Constantinos Christofides approached the raceway last year about conducting the study and Igdalsky said the time had come for one to be done.
The professors compiled the questions and the racetrack randomly selected 5,000 people that attended one of the races held at the track last summer and emailed them surveys. The results were then forwarded to the professors, who extrapolated the data.
Behr, of Bethlehem, said the numbers didn’t surprise him too much but the one that stood out to him was that 54 percent of track attendees come from out of state. Those out-of-staters spend nearly 10 times the amount of those race attendees who reside in Pennsylvania.
Marcus Jadotte, a NASCAR vice president, noted the Poconos races give the series access to the all-important Northeast United States market, especially the greater New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia region.
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, whose district includes the raceway, said that while the facility is located in Monroe County, surrounding counties benefit too.
Luzerne County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Merle Mackin said for Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre and other towns in the county, their hotels and restaurants are often closer to the track than some of those in Monroe County and provide easy access to the track via I-80 or Route 115.
“It’s a regional effect,” Carroll said. “What happens at Pocono extends thorough the region and all the way here to Harrisburg.”