PA Wilds Center featured as case study in Appalachian Regional Commission’s evaluation report of business development grants

Rural PA’s collaborative efforts to build a place-based regional brand tied to the outdoors, and create pathways for rural entrepreneurs to leverage it, has been recognized in a new study funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). 

The evaluation report, titled “Making Connections for Stronger Businesses and Resilient Communities – Evaluation of ARC Business Development Grants Closed Between 2017–2021,” focuses specifically on case studies of organizations that received ARC funding via business development grants during that time period and how they were used to effectively uplift the 13-state Appalachian Region.

The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, the backbone nonprofit that helps to lead the regional PA Wilds revitalization strategy in coordination with local and state partners, was featured as one of ten case studies in the evaluation report. This report showcases projects implemented by the PA Wilds Center and its partners that exemplify the nonprofit’s mission of integrating conservation and economic development in a way that strengthens and inspires the communities of the rural 13-county PA Wilds region. 

“ARC has been a foundational investor in the PA Wilds effort, and we were thrilled to be selected as a case study in this new report,” said Ta Enos, CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. “Our nonprofit is active in Appalachian peer networks, and we learn a great deal from other organizations doing similar work across Appalachia. It is great to have the chance to give back and share lessons we’ve learned as we work to build the PA Wilds brand in a way that intentionally drives visitor dollars and investment into our rural communities and supports small businesses. We were proud to host the research team here in the PA Wilds last fall, so they could see our ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ first hand, and talk to rural businesses that participate in it.”   

In 2017, the PA Wilds Center received a $500,000 ARC POWER investment to develop a regional marketing strategy tied to the Center’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. The PA Wilds Center’s campaign promoted outdoor experiences and explored the region’s creative talent, makers and hospitality through the Wilds Cooperative of PA (WCO). The success of this strategy, and its related tech investments, ultimately helped attract additional investors to sustain the effort past the initial ARC grant, including a Google Ad grant that provides up to $120,000 a year in ad credits to continue to help drive digital and physical foot traffic to the region to support local businesses via

The ARC evaluation shares the story of the PA Wilds Center’s history and growth. The report also featured a “lesson that others can benefit from” for each case study, identifying key learnings that have been central to the success of the organization. For the PA Wilds Center, that lesson highlighted the importance of having a brand that is more than just a sign or sticker, a focus on local entrepreneurs, the strength of public-private partnerships when working with communities, and establishing a backbone organization with staff capacity to support the effort. Another important takeaway was that building a high-functioning entrepreneurial ecosystem takes time, but is worth the investment.

Enos said early investments by ARC have helped lay a foundation for further economic development related to rural PA’s outdoors and tourism industry. This year, she said, the Center is standing up its next two PA Wilds Conservation Shops, which are mission-driven gift shops that improve market access for rural entrepreneurs by sourcing 90 percent of their inventory from rural makers and businesses in the PA Wilds while intentionally passing foot traffic to area businesses, visitor bureaus, and other attractions. The nonprofit will also be piloting a new initiative called the “Artisan Collaborative,” which is designed to help rural small businesses scale alongside the Center’s commerce platforms. ARC is an investor in all three projects. 

“We can’t say enough good things about ARC,” Enos said. “They get rural, and they get the value of place-based development. We are grateful for their investments in our projects, and that they take the time to distill lessons and best practices from projects they fund across Appalachia to create a sort of network wisdom we can all learn from.” 



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 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. The PA Wilds Center promotes the region and its 2+ million acres of public lands as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies, inspire stewardship, attract investment, retain population and improve quality of life. The PA Wilds Center’s core programs seek to help businesses leverage the PA Wilds brand and connect with new market opportunities, including: the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a network of more than 575 place-based businesses and organizations, and the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, a retail outlet primarily featuring products sourced from the WCO. For more information on the PA Wilds Center, visit To learn more about the WCO, visit Explore the PA Wilds at Find regionally made products at


Media Contact

Britt Madera | Communications Manager

PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc.

[email protected] | 570-948-1051

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