Nine entrepreneurs kick off 2022 PA Wilds PACE Program to grow their businesses

Nine entrepreneurs kick off 2022 PA Wilds PACE Program to grow their businesses

Nine small business owners in the Pennsylvania Wilds region are working their way through a course meant to inspire and grow their businesses.

The program started on April 14 as the entrepreneurs, representing nine different businesses from across the PA Wilds, gathered in Williamsport to kick off the 2022 PA Wilds PACE program, a 5-week professional development course designed to help scale rural businesses.

PACE is an acronym that stands for Plan, Accelerate, Commit and Expand. The program is being offered by the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (PA Wilds Center), and it is made possible by a partnership with the Covation Center out of Williamsport, which leads the curriculum-based program. 

All the participating businesses are members of the Wilds Cooperative of PA (WCO), a regional network of about 400 businesses and organizations that is managed by the PA Wilds Center. Valued at $2,500 per person, members of the Wilds Cooperative of PA were able to participate in the PA Wilds PACE Program at no cost thanks to funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Participants in the 2022 cohort include: Lisa Conklin Conn of Conklin Studio Pottery (McKean County), Julie Mader of Artwork by Julie Mader (McKean County), Sue Morris of Sue’s Salves (Clinton County), Stephanie Distler of Stephanie Distler Artisan Jewelry (Elk County), Karen Heltzel of Moments in Time Studio (Warren County), Rachel Courtney of Sugar Mama’s Appalachian Maple (Tioga County), Rhianna Speck of Side Door Soap & Sundry Co. (Lycoming County), Niccole St. Laurent of St. Laurent Pottery (Jefferson County), and Joshua Smith of Valley Glass Art (Elk County).

“We are so incredibly excited to be working directly with these artisan entrepreneurs who have demonstrated their interest in growing their businesses by learning about core business development techniques and how to better leverage their membership in the Wilds Cooperative of PA,” said LaKeshia Knarr, the entrepreneurial ecosystem director at the PA Wilds Center, a regional nonprofit that seeks to marry economic development and conservation in the 13-county region known as the Pennsylvania Wilds. “In addition to the curriculum provided by Covation Center staff, participants will be receiving one-on-one guidance with business consulting professionals, individualized referrals to our regional and state partners for specialized services, as well as access to other tools such as business books for additional learning.”

Following the kick-off event, participants will meet twice weekly for another four weeks of programming – meeting remotely via zoom and Mighty Networks for the first three weeks before coming together again the final week for an immersive two-day conclusion event in Kane, PA in mid May.

This is only the second time the PACE professional development program has been offered by the PA Wilds Center, with the first cohort taking place in 2020 – right as COVID-19 was becoming a concern in the U.S. The peer networking offered an opportunity for the participating entrepreneurs to share their experiences during that unprecedented time, with several of the participants acknowledging how it helped them through it.

“The Covation Center is always excited to work with businesses in the PA Wilds, and this group is no exception. From the first meeting we can see these are motivated businesses committed to not only growing their own businesses but supporting the PA Wilds business community. We are privileged to be a part of their journey,” said Steve Brady, executive director of the Covation Center.

Covation Center blends curriculum-based and facilitated cohorts with one-on-one mentoring to ensure participants are able to develop their own unique plan for business growth. This model has been successfully demonstrated in the Scale-Up America program and the PA Department of Community and Economic Development’s Engage! Program.  PA Wilds Center infuses information into the PACE program about how businesses can leverage the Pennsylvania Wilds brand and their membership in the Wilds Cooperative of PA to grow their businesses. 

Learn more about the PA Wilds PACE Program, the program participants and the Wilds Cooperative of PA at  



The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre. The PA Wilds is home to the greatest concentration of public lands in the Commonwealth. The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that inspires the communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds. Based in the region, the Center is the lead nonprofit for the PA Wilds Conservation Landscape effort, a 15+year collaborative effort by local, state and federal partners to establish the region as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies, attract investment, inspire stewardship, improve quality of life and attract and retain the region’s working-age population. PA Wilds Center works closely with PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PA Department of Community and Economic Development, the region’s county governments, and other investors in the regional strategy.

Among its many programs, the PA Wilds Center operates the regional visitor site and related marketing; manages The Wilds Cooperative of PA, a robust network of makers and other rural entrepreneurs and partner organizations that are helping to grow the region as a destination; houses the PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship, a free planning resource for communities; manages the PA Wilds trademark for the public good; is scaling a commerce platform (brick and mortar PA Wilds Conservation Shops and the online marketplace that fills gaps in visitor services while expanding market access for rural entrepreneurs and raising funds for conservation. The Center is also the fiscal and administrative home of the PA Wilds Planning Team, a regional stakeholder group formed in 2006 through a ground-breaking Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement.

For more information on the PA Wilds Center, visit To learn more about the WCO, visit Explore the PA Wilds at Find products made in the region at

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