Wilds Are Working: PA Wilds Center
Abbi Peters, EVP of Creative Commerce at PA Wilds Center, talks to community members about the development of the PA Wilds Media Lab in McKean County during an open house in 2019.
ELLEN: Hello, this is Ellen from Hello Social, interviewing on behalf of the PA Wilds Center for the “Wilds are Working” series. I’m here today with a member of the PA Wilds team itself, Abbi Peters, who’s going to share how their organization is pivoting amid these uncharted times.
ELLEN: Just to get started could you share a little bit about the PA Wilds Center for those who are watching who are not familiar. What do you do? How many employees do you have?
ABBI: The Pennsylvania Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship is a 501c3 and our mission is to marry conservation and economic development in a way that strengthens and inspires communities across the Pennsylvania Wilds. The Pennsylvania Wilds itself comprises about 13 counties, that you can kind of see behind us in the background. And we’re connected as a region. The Center itself, to be able to have a mission of marrying conservation and economic development… you kind of ask, ‘what does that really look like?’
It looks like, on the ground, our work to promote the development of asset-based eco-tourism. We know there is real power in a place-based brand. So there’s Brands like I heart New York, Keep Austin Weird … these are the types of things that help market those areas and also help keep the uniqueness of those places. And people are immediately able to identify with them. The Pennsylvania Wilds is our place-based brand. It’s extremely special. We’re about the size of Massachusetts; we have more than 2 million acres of public land, the largest wild elk herd in the north east, some of the darkest skies, two national wild and scenic rivers, and countless other assets. We have 29 state parks, 8 state forests. The only national forest in Pennsylvania is located in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
By having all of these wonderful natural assets, we also have the experiences that happen within the communities around them. Our organization helps … provide the opportunities and market these areas, while our communities can grow along with the assets while also inspiring stewardship so these special places stay special.
As far as the organization goes, we have about 7 full-time employees working across the region. We are a virtual-based organization, so the bulk of us actually worked from home.
ELLEN: So obviously, for this organization, and for businesses across the PA Wilds, things are not business as usual right now. So how has the PA Wilds Center sort of pivoted during the COVID-19 crisis?
ABBI: We did. We’ve done a couple of different things. First, we made sure that … we were following safe guidelines within our team. When you work across a region that is so large, even though you’re based from home, you do a lot of travel to be able to visit different locations. So we of course stopped all of our travel and focused to make sure that everyone was working from home safely. We also have the Pennsylvania Wilds Conservation Shop, which is located out Kinzua Bridge State Park. And so we closed that operation down and have those team members working from home. We’re only selling products online currently. And we’ve also looked to pivot our communications so that we’re not encouraging as much travel right now throughout the Pennsylvania Wilds and instead [we’re] helping people to focus on planning trips in the future or to be able to learn more about what’s happening in the Pennsylvania Wilds. But to not necessarily explore it just yet or if you do to do so safely. Within that then we also developed the series that we’re talking for right now, called The Wilds Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times. We really wanted to provide a platform for conversation among our region’s rural entrepreneurs. We have more than 300 members that are networked together through our value chain called The Wilds Cooperative. And so we really wanted those businesses to be able to share with one another and the general public, you know, kind of inspiration as to how they themselves are able to pivot and continue working and providing services during this time.
ELLEN: So in the teaser for this series PA Wilds CEO Ta Enos mentioned that the PA Wilds is going to be in a position to make a really strong tourism recovery after this. Can you kind of share what the thinking is on that?
ABBI: Sure. You know, it’s kind of a double-edged sword to be able to have so much geography and to have communities that are more spread out. It can sometimes be a little bit tougher. But now, as things are shifting and you know you need more space for social distancing to stay safe and people really need to be able to connect to nature and be able to have these experiences to help around them… we’re primed for that. Across the region we have such strong communities that are looking to stay safe and to provide experiences. We have more than 80 million people that live within a six hour drive of the Pennsylvania Wilds. So as people are looking to reconnect with nature and to step away from what might be happening in an urban city where they’re living they can easily take a vacation or short stay in the Wilds. And again get those experiences…. So that’s why we’re really looking for ways to help strengthen our businesses to get through this part of the pandemic so that as people are allowed to travel again we’re ready here for that.
ELLEN: So do you personally have any inspiration that you’d like to share? What’s kind of keeping you going right now in this very stressful time?
ABBI: There are lots of little things that I look to, you know. Just being able to find those connections where I can between family and friends, but also I’m just truly amazed and inspired by how much our communities care for one another … and how, you know [what] we’ve been doing at the Center, we’ve been doing a lot of outreach to our businesses in the Wilds Cooperative. That was actually one of the things that our team members from the Conservation Shop pivoted to when we had them working from home. We wanted to talk to the businesses and see what was happening and see to what level people were being affected. And there were so many stories of people just thinking of other businesses first. You know some of our makers are in a position where they’re actually able to get more work done. And you know dealing with this kind of guilt of saying, ‘should I still be selling my products when so many people are unemployed or in a different situation?’ And then hearing from other businesses saying, ‘yes, yes, please keep selling. Keep doing what you’re doing because you can.’ And so, hearing stories like that, it just means the world needs to know that the people are thinking of each other because we really are in this together.
ELLEN: Yeah, that community support is super inspiring. Well Abbi, thank you again so much for sharing a few minutes. For those of you watching this Q&A and others like it, make sure to visit Wild’s Cooperative of PA to find more information. That’s at WildsCoPA.org. You can also find information on how to get more support for small businesses in the Wilds there, if you want to share your story. So Abbi thanks again!
Founder + Community Connector, Hello Social Co.
THIS EPISODE FEATURES:
Ellen Matis of Hello Social Co. interviewing Abbi Peters of PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship
EVP Creative Commerce, PA Wilds Center
Peters brings 15+ years experience working in both private and non-profit creative sectors. Throughout her career, Peters has demonstrated her commitment to and passion for the arts, valuing the role that the creative industry plays with respect to economic development in rural communities across Appalachia. Appreciating the impact creative industries and placemaking have on rural economies, Abbi is especially eager to put her experiences to work in her local community as an elected official.
Has your business pivoted?
The Wild Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times series offers opportunities for small business owners and organizations to share how they are pivoting to survive the coronavirus crisis. Through 5-10 minute live interviews, participating entrepreneurs help cross-pollinate ideas and provide insights on how people can support small businesses amid COVID-19.
Learn more about how your business can get involved here.