Moving ahead after BBBRC
By Tataboline Enos, PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship Founder + CEO
Well friends, we tried so hard to bring this home for rural PA. As the only outdoor recreation industry cluster to make it to the final round, representing a highly rural landscape, we left it all on the field. Everything. I could not be more proud of our team and region.
To our component application partners, sub-award partners, the staff of the PA Wilds Center and all our other collaborators, thank you for the many hours invested in this process. While we weren’t selected for Phase 2 funding, the last nine months and our Phase 1 award have enabled bold planning, R&D, and deepened partnerships that will guide our work in the decade ahead.
I want to extend my congrats to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) winners, especially the Southwest Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative, who brought millions back to the Pittsburgh region for robotics and AI; to Coalfield Development in West Virginia, who has been doing incredible work for years in a very economically distressed, coal-impacted landscape in Appalachia; to the Southeast Conference in Alaska, a mariculture cluster; and to the Four Bands Community Fund, a group of Native CDFIs led by some amazing Native women (the first time PA Wilds Center COO, Abbi Peters, and I saw them present via zoom, it left us texting each other in excitement, “are you seeing this??”). I am excited to see what these and the other awardees accomplish with such transformational dollars.
I also want to applaud EDA for a new focus on place-based industry cluster development, and for making equity its number one investment priority, and for having that definition include underserved populations and underserved rural areas. This approach is long overdue in federal funding and I hope it stays.
This is not an easy message to write. The BBBRC process was unlike any other, given the dollars at stake. To come so close as an economically distressed rural region, and miss, hurts. We wanted the PA Wilds to be on the list of funded clusters released on Friday.
There was a huge opportunity cost for going after BBBRC. Our nonprofit, our rec infrastructure construction partners, we all had to pass up the avalanche of other ARPA funding programs coming down through EDA to do it, including, in our case, an outdoor rec/tourism bucket of funding.
We decided to do that for a number of reasons:
- because after 20 years, we knew our cluster in the most rural part of the Commonwealth was ready for this level of investment;
- because this was a rare funding program that allowed partners to truly advance a regional strategy together (in the outdoor rec bucket and most other funding programs, we would all have to compete against each other, which can be counterproductive for regional strategies in rural areas already cut to the bone);
- because EDA made equity its number one investment priority, that definition included underserved rural areas like ours, and our cluster met many of EDA’s other investment priorities, and all five of the “differentiators” that Andrew Trueblood wrote about in this recent blog post on the “new era of economic development.”
- because we know that outdoor rec, when developed intentionally, can be a huge economic driver for rural areas and have multiplying effects that help address major issues facing rural communities, such as population decline and workforce;
- because we know we have a model that with proper funding could not only work here, but be transferable to other rural landscapes; and finally
- because EDA said repeatedly that all 60 finalists were investment worthy and that they were committed to helping all of them find some level of funding.
So today, we begin that process. Of doing everything in our power to parlay what we’ve accomplished under BBBRC to attract new investment and continue to grow rural PA’s outdoor recreation economy.
We get up, dust ourselves off, and begin again.
About the Author
Ta Enos is Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, which leads a regional strategy to grow the outdoor recreation economy in the PA Wilds to help revitalize rural communities. Ta is working on a memoir about her experiences, titled OUTSIDER: Finding My Purpose in the Big Woods and Small Towns of the Pennsylvania Wilds.