Drawing on region’s Depression Era roots, PA Wilds Center launches program to pay small businesses to help each other amid crisis
The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship announced Monday it is launching a Facebook Live video series for locally-owned small businesses to share how they are pivoting to survive the coronavirus crisis, and the nonprofit is paying them for the content.
“The Wilds Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times Series” is scheduled to kick off the first week of May. The Center is dedicating $25,000 to the project, and invites the other impact investors to contribute. 100% of donations will be pushed out to small businesses through contracting opportunities to share their stories, says PA Wilds Center Founder and CEO Ta Enos.
“Small businesses are so important to our rural communities and they are in a fight for their lives right now,” Enos says. “We know their cash runways are short – some studies suggest as little as 15 to 27 days before they hit red without any new income. Every dollar counts – and so does every good idea for surviving another day until things normalize. Our goal with this series is to support and accelerate this conversation among rural entrepreneurs and with our communities.”
Under the program, entrepreneurs that participate will be paid $250 for doing a 5-10 minute Facebook Live interview about how their companies are navigating aspects of the crisis. The collection of interviews will be housed at WildsCoPA.org as a resource and shared across social media channels.
“We have an incredible community of innovative, resilient entrepreneurs in the Wilds,” Enos says. “We feel one of the best investments we can make right now is to create opportunities for them to share their stories and pivots with each other and support that sense of community that we’re in this together. We invite entrepreneurs to tune in and contribute.”
PA Wilds Center, a nonprofit, operates an entrepreneurial ecosystem focused on community revitalization that includes hundreds of businesses and organizations across the 13-county Pennsylvania Wilds region, many from the hard-hit service sector and related industries. The Center also operates the regional visitor site pawilds.com, and a retail store, the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, which focuses on selling locally-made products from rural PA. The physical shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park has been temporarily shuttered to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Enos said the Center’s store staff have shifted gears, working from home offices and reaching out to more than 150 entrepreneurs in the Wilds Cooperative to get a firsthand look at the impacts they’re facing. Through this outreach, the Center learned that more than 100 people have been laid off and nearly $500,000 in revenue has been lost in the last month alone by this slice of the region’s economy.
“Tourism has grown so much in the PA Wilds over the last 10 years – we just had another record-breaking year in visitor spending last year,” Enos says. “Alongside this, we’ve seen recreation infrastructure investments and many small businesses launch or expand, improving quality of life in our rural communities. As a low-cost, nature tourism destination within a day’s drive of a quarter of the nation’s population, our region will be well-positioned to make a strong tourism recovery when a coronavirus vaccine is found and this crisis is over. We need to do everything we can make sure our small businesses are still standing with us when we get there.”
Enos applauded the many local, state and federal partners that have swung into action amid their own organizational upheavals caused by the pandemic to assist small businesses across the region. “Chambers, Small Business Development Centers, Local Development Districts and lenders were mentioned repeatedly in our surveys,” Enos says. “They’ve been critical to helping small businesses in the PA Wilds understand and access disaster relief funding.”
But Enos stressed that the pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and that “individuals should not underestimate the difference they can make.”
“We have an aging population here in the Pennsylvania Wilds, and not a lot of hospital capacity, so it is so critical we are all serious about stopping the spread of the coronavirus. That’s Front One,” Enos says. “Front Two is the dire situation this shutdown puts our small businesses in. The mandate for many small businesses right now is survival – maintain core operations so employees have jobs to come back to when this is over. Whole sectors of our rural economy still have job security, and I respectfully call on all of us to help our small businesses in this time of crisis. What small businesses do you value in your town? Go to their website, go to their Facebook page, and inquire about how you can purchase something from them. We’ve heard from so many companies about how much this means to them. Please keep it up! And we’ll do our part to share and cross-pollinate these stories and the approaches entrepreneurs are taking across rural PA.”
Businesses will be able to apply to share their stories at WildsCoPA.org. Participants must be members of the Wilds Cooperative of PA business network. Membership in the Cooperative is free and most types of locally-owned service sector and related businesses – restaurants, shops, outfitters, makers, lodges, breweries, agri-tourism, creative services -– are eligible to join and be part of the series.
Enos says The Wilds are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times Series is inspired in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression Era-program that put Americans to work for a public good – planting trees and creating parks – boosting the country’s morale in a dark time. The PA Wilds region has more CCC camps than most states, and the trees planted a century ago helped seed the powerful nature tourism and forest products industries the region has today.
“Many of us look toward history in times of crisis to try to draw lessons and strength from how we’ve gotten through hard times before,” Enos says. “As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, we asked ourselves, how do we help our network of businesses within our mission and budget as a small rural nonprofit? The region’s rich CCC history inspired us to look at, ‘How do we create work opportunities? How do we boost morale?’ And we married that with wanting to accelerate learning and conversation among us entrepreneurs given the extreme uncertainty we’re all operating in now. Our role is small, but it is rooted and sincere. We want our small businesses with us this time next year.”
The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship (PA Wilds Center) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to marry conservation and economic development in a way that strengthens and inspires communities in the Pennsylvania Wilds. The Pennsylvania Wilds region includes the counties of Warren, Forest, Elk, Potter, McKean, Tioga, Clinton, Lycoming, Clearfield, Jefferson, Cameron, Clarion and Northern Centre. For more information on the PA Wilds Center’s programs and services, please visit www.pawildscenter.org.