State gaming revenue up 4.6% in November

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reported that total revenue from all forms of gaming along with fantasy contests during November was $452,357,922, an increase of 4.59% over the year before.

Sources of gaming revenue regulated by the board include slot machines, table games, internet gaming, sports wagering, fantasy contests and video gaming terminals.

Hollywood Casino at Penn National generated the most revenue: $71,231,136, up 18.53% from last November.

Hollywood Casino York brought in $7,724,232, an increase of 8.2%.

Total tax revenue raised through all forms of gaming and fantasy contests was $181,826,409 in November.

Gross revenue from slot machines was $185,562,394, about the same as a year ago.

Casino games offered online produced gross revenue of $128,639,234 during November, an increase of 37.01%. That was the highest monthly amount of revenue to date.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board oversees all aspects of gambling involving 16 land-based casinos, online casino games, retail and online sports wagering, and video gaming terminals at qualified truck stops, along with the regulation of online fantasy sports contests.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Inflation eases in July, driven by falling energy prices

The U.S. Commerce Department reported Friday that inflation eased in July, raising hopes that it may have peaked – finally.

Helped by lower energy costs, the personal consumer expenditures index rose 6.3% in July from a year ago, down from a 6.8% jump recorded in June, which was the biggest increase since 1982.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, climbed 4.6% last month from the year before, following a 4.8% rise in June.

On a monthly basis, consumer prices fell 0.1% from June to July and core inflation inched up 0.1%.

The news also comes on the heels of a reduction in the Labor Department’s consumer price index in July. Inflation began to accelerate in the spring of 2021 as the economy rebounded quickly from the coronavirus recession.

The Associated Press noted that the personal consumption expenditures index is less well known than the Labor Department’s consumer price index, but is preferred by the Federal Reserve as a gauge of inflationary pressures.

One of the reasons is the PCE attempts to measure how consumers are adjusting to inflation by purchasing cheaper store brands to save money.

The Commerce Department report also showed that Americans’ after-tax personal income rose 0.3% from June to July after adjusting for inflation.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Inflation rises less than expected in July

Helped by falling gasoline prices, inflation eased a bit in July, giving American consumers some relief from surging costs. However, overall price increases slowed only modestly from the four-decade high of 9.1% recorded in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Consumer Price Index.

Consumer prices climbed 8.5% in July compared with a year earlier, and on a monthly basis, prices were unchanged from June to July, which hasn’t happened in more than two years.

The gasoline index fell 7.7% in July, the largest month-over-month drop since April 2020, while energy prices fell 4.6%.

Also declining in price from June to July were airfares, which decreased nearly 8%, hotel room costs, which declined 2.7%, and used cars, which dipped 0.4%.

Core inflation, a measure that excludes the more volatile food and energy sectors, rose just 0.3%, the smallest month-to-month increase since April. Year over year, core inflation was 5.9% in July, the same as June.

The CPI report for July showed a 1.3% month-to-month rise in the food at home index, as all six major grocery store food group indexes increased.

The index for nonalcoholic beverages rose the most, increasing 2.3% as the index for coffee jumped 3.5%. The index for cereals and bakery products climbed 1.8%.

The Associated Press noted that the inflation numbers, which were lower than anticipated, could mean the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates by a lesser margin when it meets in September.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Pennsylvania is third-ranked trout-producing state

The state’s trout growers were quite busy in 2021, producing trout valued at $20.7 million.

That’s according to the latest Pennsylvania aquaculture update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Commercial trout producers in the commonwealth sold 1.55 million pounds of trout last year, valued at $7.13 million, ranking third nationally behind Idaho and North Carolina.

Pennsylvania farmers also produced $13.5 million worth of trout for conservation and recreational purposes in 2021. That ranked third as well, trailing only Washington and Idaho.

These conservation-related trout – 640,000 of which grew to at least a foot – were produced primarily by the state Fish and Boat Commission, cooperative nurseries and private fishing clubs.

Sales of food fish trout 12 inches or longer in Pennsylvania totaled 1.37 million pounds. They averaged $4.54 per pound, compared with $2.01 nationally. Total sales of 12-inch and larger trout were valued at $6.22 million.

Nationally, the total value of fish sales received by U.S. trout growers reached $97.3 million in 2021, an increase of 1% from the year before. Idaho accounted for 35% of the total value of fish sold.

From February to March 2022, Pennsylvania aquaculture product producers reported sales totaling $11 million; sales of trout comprised 65% of that.

The rest was made up of non-trout food fish, sport and game fish, bait fish, crustaceans, mollusks, ornamental fish and other animal aquaculture, such as tadpoles.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Two Pennsylvania railroad rehab projects receive $16.4 million in grant funding 

Railroad infrastructure projects in Berks County and Adams and Cumberland counties will receive a total of $16.4 million in grant funding. 

Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week that the Gettysburg & Northern Railroad Co. was awarded up to $1.84 million and the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Berks was awarded up to $14.6 million in Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grants. 

The grants were made possible by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed last November. The law included $368 million in funding for CRISI grants for 46 projects in 32 states. 

The funding is expected to strengthen supply chains and create good-paying jobs, according to the Wolf Administration. 

“Rail infrastructure is critical to this commonwealth, as we rank first in the nation in the number of operating railroads and nearly top in total track mileage, so this funding will ensure that our infrastructure remains strong and reliable, while creating good-paying jobs,” said Wolf. “I’m grateful to the Biden-Harris Administration for its continued commitment to investing in our infrastructure through the landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will make a significant difference for not only our physical infrastructure but also our economy and our workforce.” 

Gettysburg & Northern Railroad Co. will use its grant funding for the Gettysburg State and Private Investments Driving Economic Recovery Project, which is expected to rehabilitate approximately 24 miles of the Gettysburg & Northern Railway mainline in Adams and Cumberland counties. 

The Redevelopment Authority of the County of Berks will use its funding for its Colebrookdale Railroad Infrastructure, Safety & Capacity Upgrade. The proposed project will rehabilitate approximately 8.6 miles of track with 130-pound continuous welded rail to ensure compliance with class 2 track standards and the ability to able to handle 286,000-pound railcars between Boyertown and Pottstown. The project will also rehabilitate or replace 14 bridges that are deteriorating, construct two rail-served transload yards, and six new sidings. 

Penn National Gaming earnings set quarterly record

Wyomissing-based Penn National Gaming Inc. reported record first-quarter revenue of $1.56 billion, a jump of 22.7% over last year.

The company’s adjusted EBITDAR (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and restructuring or rent costs) of $494.7 million in the three months ending March 31 also set a record.

A leading provider of integrated entertainment, sports content and casino gaming experiences, Penn National Gaming operates 44 properties in 20 states, online sports betting in 13 jurisdictions and iCasino in five, under a portfolio of brands including Hollywood Casino.

Jay Snowden, president and CEO, said in a release, “These results reflect our continued progress in meeting our strategic objectives. We are growing our active mychoice database and are seeing early benefits from our technology investments. We are also driving momentum at our interactive segment with ongoing sports betting and iCasino growth in the U.S., and the successful launch of mobile sports betting and iCasino in Ontario on April 4 on theScore’s proprietary player account management system and bonusing engine.”

Based on the strength of this first quarter performance, he said, Penn National Gaming is increasing its 2022 revenue and adjusted EBITDAR guidance range from $6.15 billion to $6.55 billion and $1.875 billion to $2 billion, respectively.

“We remain encouraged by the ongoing visitation from younger demographics and are focused on continuing to reimagine our properties and offerings to enhance the entertainment appeal to this steadily growing segment of consumers,” Snowden added.

Pennsylvania unemployment rate falls in December 

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.7% in November to 5.4% in December, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry. 

The Commonwealth’s unemployment rate mirror a drop in the country’s rate, which fell from 4.2% in November to 3.9% in December.  

For Pennsylvania, December’s unemployment rate was 1.7% below December 2020’s rate of 7.1%.  

Pennsylvania’s civilian labor force – the estimated number of residents working or looking for work – decreased 18,000 over the month.  

Total nonfarm jobs in the state were up 14,300 over the month to 5,804,600 and jobs increased in eight of the 11 industry supersectors. 

The greatest increase was among jobs in the trade, transportation and utilities supersector, which saw an increase of 9,400. The second largest was leisure and hospitality at 3,300. 

Jobs in professional and business services saw the largest drop, being down 4,100. 

Over 2021, total nonfarm jobs were up 202,200 with gains in 10 of the 11 supersectors. Leisure and hospitality had the largest 12-month gain, adding 80,400 jobs. 

All supersectors continue to remain below their pre-pandemic job levels. 

How Utz went from local to national, and its plans to continue expanding 

The New York Stock Exchange welcomed Utz Brands, Inc (NYSE: UTZ) in celebration of its initial public offering on August 2020. PHOTO/PROVIDED

On August 27, 2020, Utz Quality Foods completed a merger with special purpose acquisition firm Collier Creek and made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange four days later as the new Utz Brands, Inc. 

Soon after going public, the Hanover-based salty snack manufacturer announced that it would acquire ON THE BORDER, a Texas-based manufacturer of tortillas, salsa and queso dips. 

Utz’s acquisition of ON THE BORDER rocketed the company to the third largest manufacturer of tortillas in the country. The $480 million purchase couldn’t have been done without the access to capital that Utz now had as a public company, said Dylan Lissette, CEO of Utz.  

The acquisition gave Utz the opportunity to not only manufacture ON THE BORDER products in-house instead of through third party manufacturers, it also allowed it to integrate the products into its own routes, immediately bringing ON THE BORDER to more store shelves. 

For Utz, an acquisition can mean expanding the company’s geographic reach, breaking into a new product market and expanding into new regions.  

Since going public, the manufacturer has continued to expand through acquisitions, adding Chicago-based snack food maker, Vitner’s;  Nebraska-based filled-pretzel brand, H.K. Anderson; and most recently, Michigan-based R.W. Garcia Holdings and RW Garcia, maker of tortilla chips, crackers and corn chips. 

“What we really wanted to do [when going public] was make the company able to compete on a national scale within the US,” said Lissette. “We could continue to do the things we were good at, which was organically growing the brands that we have and own today, expanding the distribution of those brands across the US, and acquiring brands that made strategic sense for us Having access to capital and going public ramped that up.” 

Strategic growth 

If Frito Lay can serve every retailer in a market selling snack foods today, so can Utz, said Lissette. 

Dylan Lissette, Chief Executive Officer, stands in front of the New York Stock Exchange. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Today Utz serves every region on the East Coast with truck routes reaching every major city from Augusta, Maine to Miami, Florida. 

Nationally, the brand is currently a national player with a strong business in the Pacific Northwest with brands like Tim’s Cascade, Hawaiian and more. 

The company has a wide array of options when it expands to a new city or state or widens its net on an existing market. For example, when it acquired Vitner’s, Utz catapulted its ability to serve the Chicago market by using Vitner’s route system. Simultaneously, it allowed the company to incorporate its power brands, such as Zapp’s and Utz potato chips, alongside Vitner’s products. 

“Some of the mergers and acquisitions are geographic, some are brand-oriented, some are opportunistic,” said Lissette. “We look at it as a core foundational thing that we can do as the Utz company.” 

With its mergers and acquisitions, Utz is building on its already established distribution network with new products that are similar to potato chips such as other potato chip brands, pretzels and tortilla chips. Those products can all be delivered on the same truck, expanding efficiencies for the company, said Gerald Morrison, a business attorney with Harrisburg-based law firm Smigel, Anderson & Sacks. 

Morrison has represented and sold hundreds of businesses, including potato chip company Charles Chips, founded in Lancaster County. 

“The goal is to drive down the cost of operations so you can afford to pay [shelving fees] for that shelf space,” said Morrison. “You drive down cost by selling those snacks on the same truck and selling through the same salesperson.” 

Outside of its mergers and acquisitions, much of Utz’s growth has come from organically expanding its brands through leasing or buying new distribution centers, utilizing or buying a third-party distributor, entering partnerships with businesses and more. 


National growth 

Utz is currently ranked second in the salty snacks market among its core geographies and third nationally. The company operates 17 manufacturing facilities, selling nearly 7 million pounds of snacks per week at more than 100,000 retail stores across the country. 

In its Third Quarter 2021 Financial Results Summary, Utz reported net sales of $312.7 million—a 26.1% increase from the company’s $248 million in the third quarter of 2020. The company also saw net income increase from $18.2 million in the third quarter of 2020 to $25.6 million this year. 

By the end of 2021, Lissette estimates that the company will sell over $1.1 billion in product. 

Utz products line a grocery store shelf. PHOTO/PROVIDED –

Utz reported in its December 2021 Investor Presentation that it expects to continue to expand its reach  by focusing on key expansion markets in the South, Midwest and Colorado; and key emerging markets in Florida, Texas, California and the West. 

Utz’s “core” geographies include: Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, Louisiana and Alabama. 

The company considers its expansion markets to be: Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The remaining states are considered “emerging” markets. 

“We have a plant outside of Seattle, Washington, and a plant in Goodyear, Arizona. There are fourteen hundred miles between those two,” said Lissette. “We believe, and we are seeing this in our emerging and expanding markets, that that is a huge future market for us to continue to develop.” 

Lissette added that Utz has the brand power to grow in the region as well as the product consumers want. If the company doesn’t have the manufacturing capabilities to meet that demand, it will look to invest further. 

“We want to be sure we focus our time on the areas with the best return for us in terms of access to people, demographics, retailers and customers,” he said. “A lot of that will be the South East and the West.” 

Utz’s national footprint has been growing steadily over the past ten years, with its most rapid growth taking place in the past five years.  

To operate the 17 plants it has under its wing today, Utz must ensure that there is solid communication between them, but it must also maintain the culture, said Lissette. 

The first year or two is the toughest because you are talking about integration,he said. “I remember when we purchased Zapp’s over ten years ago and learned their New Orleans team took a company holiday on Mardi Gras (this year, it takes place on March 1, 2022). We don’t do that in our network, but we didn’t change it either. We work hard to be nimble.”