PA Wilds Center teams up with The Progress Fund, invites small tourism businesses to join its free network ahead of COVID grant program

PA Wilds Center teams up with The Progress Fund, invites small tourism businesses to join its free network ahead of COVID grant program

The nonprofit PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship (PA Wilds Center) is encouraging small tourism-related businesses in the 13 counties of the Pennsylvania Wilds to join its free network as a way to help prep for the upcoming small business grant round announced this week by Gov. Tom Wolf. 

The state’s network of Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, will be distributing more than $225M in grant funds statewide to small businesses impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns. The application for the grant program is in development.

David Kahley, President and CEO of The Progress Fund, the CDFI that serves the Pennsylvania Wilds region, said Wednesday the COVID grant program will be geared toward Main Street type, for-profit businesses with 25 or fewer employees and annual gross revenue of $1M or less. He anticipated the application period to open around July 1. The PA Department of Community and Economic Development has posted general guidelines for the program here.

PA Wilds Center, which operates programs for rural communities, entrepreneurs and small businesses involved in growing the region’s $1.8B nature and heritage tourism industry, has teamed up with The Progress Fund to get COVID grant funds into the important tourism economy of the Pennsylvania Wilds. 

More than 240 small businesses – outfitters, lodges, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, B&Bs, retailers, makers, craft ag food producers, and creative services companies — from across the PA Wilds already participate in the Center’s free business network, The Wilds Cooperative of PA, as do many chambers, visitor bureaus, state parks and other non-profit partners.

“Tourism makes up 11 percent of the Pennsylvania Wilds’ economy and has been heavily impacted due to closures and restrictions on travel, as highlighted in our recent white paper,” says PA Wilds Center CEO Ta Enos. “Our region has seen four decades of population decline due to industry losses. To have a wave of service-sector closures on top of that would be devastating to our rural communities. These grants are critical to helping stop that.” 

Enos invited small tourism-related businesses in the Pennsylvania Wilds that are not already part of the Center’s network to join it at WildsCoPA.org to stay in the loop on any updates the Center has on the grant program. There is no membership fee to join. 

In May, PA Wilds Center launched a facebook live interview series where it pays small businesses in the Wilds Cooperative $250 to share pivots and reopening strategies they are using to keep their companies viable amid the COVID public health crisis. More than a dozen interviews in the Wilds Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurs in Uncharted Times Series have already gone live.  

“The Wilds Cooperative is a free technical and communications resource for tourism-related businesses in the region, so we encourage rural companies in this industry to take advantage of the ecosystem we are building,” Enos says. “We’d love to see every business in our network that applies for one of these COVID grants be successful.” 

The state’s network of nonprofit CDFIs continued to work on the application and scoring criteria for the COVID grants this week. Many questions are still being worked out. In an interview with the PA Wilds Center on Wednesday, Kahley encouraged businesses involved in the PA Wilds’ tourism industry to get their recent tax returns together – or for start-ups, to get a set of internally-generated financials together — and to watch for more program updates next week.

The COVID grant funding was developed in partnership with state lawmakers and allocated through the recently enacted state budget, which included $2.6 billion in federal stimulus funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, of which $225 million was earmarked for relief for small businesses.

Kahley said it is a goal of the CDFIs to have a portion of the grants go to rural areas, and the Progress Fund has been working with The Center for Rural PA, the state’s Rural Development Council and others to provide information to the group developing the application.

Kahley said the group has heard concerns about people getting left out of previous aid programs that were first come, first serve. “The window on this is a lot longer,” he said Wednesday. “You’ve got more time. There will be stop-gaps to help with equitable distribution across the state.”

Kahley said the goal of the group is to make the application portal live by July 1. Eligible businesses will be able to use the grants to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and transition to re-opening, and for technical assistance including training and guidance for business owners as they stabilize and relaunch their businesses. 

Kahley said the group is trying to keep the application simple. 

About The Progress Fund: The Progress Fund is a nonprofit CDFI focused on new or expanding tourism businesses. It serves Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland. It provides loans from $5000 to over $1 million and business coaching. The Progress Fund encourages job creation, historic preservation, diverse business ownership, local agriculture and trail-based development.  

About the Pennsylvania Wilds: The Pennsylvania Wilds is one of the state’s 11 official tourism regions, and also one of its eight designated Conservation Landscapes. It covers about a quarter of the Commonwealth and 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. (PA Wilds Center) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that strengthens and inspires communities in the Pennsylvania Wilds. 

For more information on the PA Wilds Center’s programs and services, please visit www.pawildscenter.org

A full list of Pennsylvania’s CDFIs can be found here.

 

Media Contact: LaKeshia Knarr, PA Wilds Center Communications Director 

lknarr@pawildscenter.org | 570-295-9014

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