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Report: Pittsburgh Region's Leisure And Hospitality Sector Is In Dire Straits

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The region’s leisure and hospitality sector is in dire economic straits, according to a report issued earlier this month from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.";

The region’s leisure and hospitality sector is in dire economic straits, according to a report issued earlier this month from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Some sectors of the region’s economy have rebounded from COVID-19 in terms of employment numbers, and in some cases, such as retail and healthcare, are even ahead of their pre-pandemic employment figures, said Jim Futrell, vice president of market research at the Conference.

“Leisure and hospitality on the other hand…while it was able to rebound slightly into June, as [coronavirus] restrictions were lifted, what you did see is that sector has not been able to really gain any traction since then.”

That sector of the economy includes businesses and nonprofits covering arts, entertainment, and recreation, such as the symphony, cultural events, and museums, as well as accommodation and food service businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

It is the third-largest industry in the region, he noted.

A survey late last year from the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association found about half of restaurants did not expect to be in business in six months without additional government aid.

Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, has also studied the uneven impact the pandemic has had on various parts of the economy.

“Recovery in that sector clearly has been over for several months,” he said of restaurants, noting that “full-service” restaurants where patrons sit down to order, have been the hardest hit.

The Allegheny Conference report looks at employment figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics through December of last year.

“As 2020 ends and 2021 begins, it has become increasingly evident that while the region as a whole is in a recession, the leisure and hospitality sector is in a depression,” Futrell wrote in the business group’s report.

“Leisure and hospitality have seen little recovery since June. While much of this is due to the challenges faced by the restaurant industry, the arts, entertainment and recreation sector has seen employment drop continuously since July. Trends will likely not change in the coming months as a result of the cold weather, but with the emerging distribution of a vaccine, and the approach of spring, a slow recovery can begin which will benefit regional employment as a whole,” Futrell forecast.

The region has lost more than 86,000 jobs – a 7.2% drop in employment between December 2019 and December 2020 – overall. The report covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Pennsylvania recently rolled out a $145 million “recovery program” for hospitality industry businesses; counties must establish grant programs to disburse the funds to eligible businesses.  

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at kgiammarise@wesa.fm or 412-697-2953.
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