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System 2 – Expanding Economic Opportunity (EEO)

Vision Statement

All current and future Lancaster City residents should have the opportunity to earn incomes and build assets that allow them to live safe, healthy, fulfilling lives. This especially includes those who have been denied access to such opportunity in the past. Lancaster’s major industries and economic drivers will be sustained and supported. At the same time, the City will grow the local economy and recognize opportunities in emerging sectors. It will support entrepreneurship and respond to business needs for talent, space, and capital. Prosperity will not come at the expense of people and planet; a priority will be placed on economic growth that is equitable and sustainable. 


Lancaster is comparable in size to the cities of York, Harrisburg, Altoona, Wilkes-Barre, Reading, and Bethlehem. Lancaster’s poverty rate is lower than these peer cities (Figure 3-4), measuring about 19 percent in 2021. The city’s poverty rate has also declined at a faster rate than the other cities, dropping 10 percentage points since 2016. Nonetheless, the incidence of poverty in the city significantly exceeds the County and State rates (8.6 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively).

Figure 3-4: Poverty Rates in Mid-Sized Pennsylvania Cities, 2015-2021. Lancaster’s poverty rate has been declining and is lower than the rates in most mid-sized Pennsylvania cities.

Moreover, poverty is not evenly distributed across racial and ethnic groups. The Census indicates that 11.9 percent of White, Non-Hispanic Lancaster residents live below the poverty line. The poverty rate is 19.2 percent for African-American residents, 25.5 percent for Hispanic residents, and 29.5 percent for Asian residents. Unemployment and educational attainment rates among different racial and ethnic groups are similarly skewed.
Closing the race and ethnicity gap is a key goal of workforce development, education, and economic development programs.

Lancaster is a Certified Welcoming city that consistently ranks high in national “best of” lists. Our diversity is a recognized economic asset and is reflected in sectors such as retail, restaurants, and hospitality. Our businesses are extensively small and locally owned, a distinction in its own right in a national economy that rewards growth and consolidation. 

Lancaster is fortunate to be home to many partners who proactively contribute to the collective economic success of its businesses. The Downtown Investment District supports a clean and safe downtown with multiple “Ambassadors” assisting residents and patrons. Lancaster Safety Coalition monitors cameras placed throughout the city, which help to deter and solve crime. Lancaster Parking Authority invests in facilities to expand parking capacity and choice and ensure that the downtown core has access to parking for shoppers, patrons and eventgoers. 

Lancaster City Alliance (LCA) supports an association of Downtown Merchants and the Downtown Investment District Authority (DID) and works in tandem with the City to ensure the needs of businesses are met. LCA is advancing a 15-year economic development plan for the city that focuses on the revitalization of neighborhood corridors. LCA also operates the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ), which collects and reinvests revenue similar to a tax increment financing district (Figure 3-5).

Figure 3-5: Map of the Downtown Investment District (DID) and City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ)

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology trains students in high-demand trades, with preferential programs for city residents. Tec Centro, part of the Spanish-American Civic Association, trains and equips city residents for jobs, with Spanish language support. ASSETS supports BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) entrepreneurs and business owners, and is working toward building a local economy reflective of the city’s diversity. A strong Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation are mainstays of the local economy and champions of the city. These organizations contribute to the health of the local economy and vibrancy of the city as a whole.

The city continues to attract development, including an increasing number of projects geared toward older adults. This growth has brought new buying power to the local economy and increased real estate tax revenue for both the City and the School District without adding students. Lancaster also is leveraging its position as a college town and health care hub to attract private investment in these sectors (“eds and meds”). Its retail and tourism sectors are also evolving and remain resilient in the face of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Comprehensive Plan engagement process and analysis revealed a set of core issues related to the expansion of economic opportunity. These include: 

  • Poverty: Despite a robust economy, Lancaster still has steep disparities in income within its boundaries. Incomes remain below the citywide average in the neighborhoods south of King Street.
  • Income Diversity: Income distribution in Lancaster is uneven, with a dwindling middle class. The percentage of households with incomes of $50,000-100,000 is smaller than in the county. 
  • Housing Cost Burden: A majority of the city’s renters pay more than 30% of their incomes on rent, with some paying more than half. The majority of rental real estate is owned by investors who live outside of the city, resulting in significant economic leakage. 
  • Workforce Sectors & Supply: The City’s top three job sectors are Healthcare/Social Services, Educational Services, and Manufacturing. Lancaster General Health Penn Medicine is the largest employer in the city. Businesses across the city and county report being in desperate need of employees, as well as the services needed to sustain the workforce (such as childcare and public transportation). In some cases, there are mismatches between available jobs and local skills. 
  • Generational Lifestyles: Lancaster’s largest age group is millennials, who have led the way in utilizing e-commerce over brick and mortar. This has been challenging for Lancaster’s retailers. At the same time, the emergence of an “experience” economy has benefited some businesses, including restaurants, entertainment venues, and personal services.
  • Structural Inequities: The City is bound by State law limiting many types of tax increases, resulting in greater reliance on real estate taxes and higher property tax rates. Lancaster has been elevating efforts to increase flexibility with Earned Income Taxes, as incomes are increasing faster than real estate assessments and offer the potential for a more progressive, equitable tax system. 
  • Laboratory City: Lancaster is a microcosm of many American cities: it is racially and culturally diverse, it is young, and it holds the potential for upward mobility. Lancaster can chart a path for how to build a thriving, equitable economy in our region, state, and even across the country.

The policies and actions below respond to these issues. They are divided into three elements:

  1. Economic Mobility
  2. Economic Growth
  3. Local Economy and Entrepreneurs

Policies & Actions


Objective: Support residents in preparing for and securing good jobs that raise their standard of living.

Policy EEO–1.1: Raising Household Income

Raise household incomes in the city, especially among disadvantaged groups and lower-income households. Ensure that workforce and economic development programs are responsive to the needs of local families, including transportation, childcare, education, and training. Prioritize job readiness programs and essential / life skills courses.

Action EEO–1.1A: Economic Needs Surveys

Conduct surveys and other data collection efforts at regular intervals to hear directly from residents what their most pressing needs are related to employment. Analyze and share data amongst Economic and Workforce Development partners to guide the delivery of services and meet the top needs of residents.

Policy EEO–1.2: Childcare Resources

Provide high-quality, affordable before and after school care and summer programs as a way to support working parents. Prioritize children of employed single heads of households to facilitate secure household incomes and a stronger workforce. 

Action EEO–1.2A: Childcare Study

Work with the School District of Lancaster, Lancaster Recreation Commission, and nonprofit partners to evaluate the supply and demand of current childcare resources and make recommendations to fill gaps where they may exist.

Policy EEO–1.3: Promotion of Residents to Employers

Connect Lancaster residents to local employers, especially employers within the city limits. Local residents should be positioned as the best candidates to fill jobs in the city. Job matching programs should prioritize residents who may face barriers to employment, including non-native English speakers, refugees and immigrants, youth, older adults, persons with disabilities, and single parents. 

Action EEO–1.3A: Job Board

Launch a new, online City Job Board to post employment opportunities within City government. Ensure residents are aware of the Job Board and market these opportunities in more creative and accessible ways.

Policy EEO–1.4: Meeting Employer Workforce Needs

Reinforce employment and training programs led by organizations such as Workforce Development Board, Thaddeus Stevens, and Tec Centro, which respond to business trends and create the skills and abilities needed by local businesses. Work with local employers to identify their needs. Collaborate with educational institutions to meet these needs and prepare residents for jobs in the local economy. 

Action EEO–1.4A: Workforce Development Analysis

Evaluate the efficacy of existing workforce development programs for city residents by tracking data on services delivered and outcomes achieved and comparing against best practices. Invest in workforce development initiatives that benefit residents and employers, increase the tax base, and strengthen neighborhood fabric.

Action EEO–1.4B: Employer Hiring Network

Establish an Employer Hiring Network comprised of aligned employers, including the City of Lancaster, to recruit city residents into family-sustaining employment. Connect these employers with workforce development organizations so that education programs are responsive to needs and opportunities. 

Policy EEO–1.5: Workforce Collective Impact

Improve coordination among workforce development, education, human services and business to reduce barriers, leverage resources, and increase collective impacts. Identify emerging trends and technologies so that residents have the skills to succeed as the economy changes.

Policy EEO–1.6: Education and Employment Linkage

Link education and employment in ways that create the potential for income, employment, and population growth for all residents. This includes the creation of family-sustaining local jobs, along with education and job training programs that improve the ability of Lancaster residents to fill those jobs. It also includes growth in manufacturing, construction, trades, and other sectors that do not require advanced degrees.

Policy EEO–1.7: Public School Partnerships

Deepen the relationship between the City and the School District of Lancaster, including understanding graduate and job trends, connecting students with City jobs and other prospective employers, matching businesses with schools, and nurturing local talent.

Policy EEO–1.8: Vulnerable Populations

Expand employment resources and support for vulnerable populations in Lancaster City, including persons exiting the criminal justice system and persons with mental health needs and/or other disabilities. Support employment for formerly incarcerated persons to reduce recidivism among this population. (see also Policy BCC-2.4)

Policy EEO–1.9: Nontraditional Income

Promote opportunities for residents to expand their earning potential through non-traditional, part-time, informal, and creative economy pursuits. Examples include expansion of Accessory Dwelling Units (generating income through rent), home-based businesses, freelancing, technology entrepreneurship, and job-sharing. 


Objective: Advance growth and investment that will bolster the tax base and retain and attract employers that provide job opportunities for city residents.

Policy EEO–2.1: Geography of Economic Development

Prioritize economic growth and revitalization activities in the areas designated in the Comprehensive Plan Economic Development Policy Map. Prepare Small Area Plans where necessary to direct investment, guide land development, and maximize community and economic benefit.

Action EEO–2.1A: Building on Strength Recalibration

Update the city’s Economic Development Plan, titled Building on Strength. Use the Comprehensive Plan’s general Economic Development Policy Map (see Figure 4-3) to organize strategies and initiatives. Integrate and further detail (as needed) place-based policies for the mixed-use, commercial Corridors and Hubs.

Action EEO–2.1B: Redevelopment Area Plan Update

Update the City’s Redevelopment Area Plan, which guides the work of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster (RACL). The Redevelopment Plan establishes broad topical goals and geographic areas for RACL activities, as well as identifying key sites or land parcels for acquisition that may catalyze revitalization and economic growth.

Policy EEO–2.2: Economic Development Toolbox

Maintain effective economic development tools including Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA), the City Revitalization Improvement Zone (CRIZ), and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as ways to grow commercial and mixed-use business in the city and incentivize physical improvements where there may otherwise be barriers. Adapt, improve, and add to the toolbox as feasible, coordinating with the County and/or State as needed to achieve the desired results.

Policy EEO–2.3: Small Business Grants and Loans

Encourage and support economic development partner organizations such as Lancaster City Alliance, ASSETS, Lancaster Economic Development Company, and Community First Fund to develop and expand grant and loan programs for small businesses seeking capital to start, improve, or expand. Emphasize opportunities for disadvantaged businesses and businesses owned by women and persons of color. 

Action EEO–2.3A: Housing Impact Fund

Create a revolving loan and/or grant fund(s) to help close financing gaps for land development projects that will produce new housing in the City, including affordable and workforce housing. This fund is intended to address the high demand for housing and limited supply, which is an impediment to economic growth.

Policy EEO–2.4: Infrastructure and Economic Development

Where feasible, utilize public infrastructure investments and site clean-up or preparation to overcome economic and/or environmental barriers and enable redevelopment. Partner with land developers wishing to activate priority areas or sites (designated in the Comprehensive Plan or related planning documents) to identify and apply appropriate funding sources and tools. 

Policy EEO–2.5: Broadband Access

Establish and maintain broadband internet access for all households and businesses within the City of Lancaster. Achieving this standard helps to provide equitable access to information, reduce transportation costs, and support economic development and job growth.

Policy EEO–2.6: Light Industry and Innovation

Use land designated as “Light Industry and Innovation” on the Future Land Use Map to augment the number and diversity of jobs in the city and increase tax revenues. These lands can advance existing job sectors in Lancaster while providing space for emerging job sectors. 

Action EEO–2.6A: Commercial and Industrial Lands Study

Conduct a citywide commercial and industrial lands study, with a focus on areas north of the train tracks, to assess the viability of these areas for current and future users. Develop land use and economic development strategies for key sites to attract investment, create jobs and revenue, and provide amenities for Lancaster City residents. 

Policy EEO–2.7: Education and Health Care Sectors

Recognize the role of education and health care as core industries and economic drivers. Collectively, these sectors represent 40 percent of the city’s jobs, and their retention is critical to Lancaster’s economic health. Maintain a favorable business climate that allows these industries to adapt, expand, and thrive. 


Objective: Boost the diversity and prosperity of small businesses and neighborhood commercial centers throughout the city.

Policy EEO–3.1: City Brand and Marketing

Refine and promote the City’s brand so it remains fresh, identifiable, and compelling both locally and in the mid-Atlantic region. Build on the fact that Lancaster is seen as a wholesome, unique, and beautiful place. Ensure that the city’s unique attributes are reflected in an expanded brand that includes recreation, tourism, cultural diversity, and independent entrepreneurs. 

Policy EEO–3.2: Promoting Local Shopping

Encourage local purchasing of goods and services by residents, workers, businesses, and visitors in order to support Lancaster City businesses, generate revenue, and cycle dollars back into the economy. Support initiatives such as “Downtown Dollars” that promote patronage of local businesses by residents and visitors. 

Policy EEO–3.3: Leadership in the Impact Economy

Invest in the “impact economy” and businesses, products, and services that differentiate Lancaster City as a special place and market. Grow BIPOC-owned businesses to build an economy that reflects the makeup of the community. Incentivize organizations to shift purchasing toward local, BIPOC-owned, women-owned, and “B Corp” businesses.

Policy EEO–3.4: Economic Partnerships at Neighborhood and Community Scale

Foster relationships with community development organizations including ASSETS, Community Action Partnership (CAP), Spanish American Civic Association (SACA), YWCA, Tenfold, and members of the Lancaster Equity coalition to ensure that economic development is thoughtful, intentional, and beneficial at the neighborhood level, throughout the city. 

Policy EEO–3.5: Local Business Information

Disseminate information to local businesses on topics such as training, lending, contracting/ procurement, facade improvement, business development, networking, and real estate resources. Assist displaced businesses in finding new office or retail locations that can contribute to commercial success and effectively serve consumers. 

Action EEO–3.5A: Business Registry

Promote local businesses widely by establishing an improved City Business Registry.

Policy EEO–3.6: Hospitality Sector

Recognize and support tourism and hospitality as a significant contributor to Lancaster’s economy. Ensure that tourism initiatives are authentic and culturally inclusive. Promote activities that celebrate Lancaster’s history, outdoor environment, and scenic resources, including the Conestoga River. 

Action EEO–3.6A: Tourism Master Plan

Complete a Tourism Master Plan and expand partnerships with Discover Lancaster to expand local, regional, and Mid-Atlantic tourism in Lancaster City. Key aspects of the plan may include making physical design improvements to the City’s Welcome Center; upgrading guest services and resources; continuing to invest in placemaking, including public art and public spaces; and promoting the history of racial equity in Lancaster, including the emerging Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Center for History and Democracy. 

Policy EEO–3.7: Production Economy

Celebrate and grow Lancaster’s production economy of locally grown and produced food, beverages, art, crafts, clothing, and more. Support maker spaces and non-traditional retail spaces to innovate, create, and sell local products. Local marketing campaigns and targeted events should bolster local makers and producers.

Policy EEO–3.8: Local Attractions

Invest in cultural arts, sports, convention, and entertainment venues to create amenities for residents and draw regional consumers. Encourage venues to work collaboratively in scheduling, marketing, and offerings.