PA Wilds, Southeast Ohio receive grant to study mobile platform development to advance rural tourism economies
The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (PA Wilds Center) has received a $387,500 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to work with partners to complete research, planning, and market analysis for a mobile platform that would accelerate the growth and value capture of rural place-based tourism sectors and their related supply chains.
The grant for the “Mobile Platform Development to Advance Rural Tourism Economies” project is being funded through ARC’s ARISE Initiative, which is designed to drive large-scale, regional economic transformation through multi-state collaborative projects across Appalachia.
The PA Wilds Center is partnering on the project with the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA), a council of governments that serves multiple rural counties in southeast Ohio and is home to the Baileys Trail System. A number of technical assistance partners are also supporting the application in an advisory role, helping the Center and ORCA to develop proposals and select consultants, providing insights into key development aspects and findings, and similar guidance.
PA Wilds Center founder and CEO Ta Enos said she is grateful to ARC and other partners for investing in the project.
“The PA Wilds is not the only region that is working to grow its outdoor recreation and tourism sectors in an intentional way that supports local businesses, inspires stewardship, helps attract workforce, keeps more dollars in the rural economy longer, and similar goals,” Enos said. “Many communities across Appalachia are championing similar efforts. We’ve seen from our own work in the PA Wilds, and in talking with our peers across Appalachia, that there are gaps and barriers in the tools and technology available to rural areas for advancing this kind of work in the 21st Century. This project is really about drilling down into that to see if there is a solution that can help all of us. And then figuring out what that would cost to build and implement, and what an appropriate ownership structure would look like.”
Enos said the project builds off lessons learned through the PA Wilds effort over the last 20 years, including operating precursor technology, hearing feedback from other rural landscapes, as well as early research and development the Center completed under previous grants in the last two years.
Based on the early R&D, the Center and ORCA are looking at the feasibility of a progressive web app platform with functionalities across six main areas: supporting a region’s efforts to grow visitation; advancing local supply chains and business-to-business sales; harnessing impact data to help inform local economic development strategies and decision-making; supporting stewardship causes; improving access to capital for small businesses; and helping to recruit workforce.
Enos said most aspects of this “new” technology are already de-risked and operating successfully in the global marketplace. “The innovation of this project is in how these functionalities are tied together in a new way around rural economic development place-making strategies and networks; regional brands and the recreation and heritage experiences at the heart of them; and clusters of local entrepreneurs who, if better connected to each other and relevant consumers, will enable a virtuous cycle of growth.”
“The PA Wilds Center’s leadership in rural outdoor recreation based economic development was and remains an inspiration to ORCA and countless others doing this work across the country. We’re thrilled and honored to partner with the PA Wilds led team on this innovative project,” said Jessie Powers, the executive director of ORCA. “ORCA’s partners representing 17 Ohio counties and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources are excited to investigate integration of strategic app functionalities to accelerate growth and sustain our respective rural economies.”
Enos said the early vision is to build a tool that empowers locally led rural outdoor recreation and tourism strategies and local businesses and one that leverages and accelerates the incredible ground-level development already happening in many communities across Appalachia.
The Center and ORCA will complete six plans over the next 18 months with the ARISE planning grant: a master business plan, ownership structure and standards of practice plan, a research and development cost analysis of each new functionality, a third party review of the cost analysis and scaling plans, a user adoption playbook, and a user adoption guide for partnerships. The development of the progressive web app itself will take place during a different stage of the project, using other funding. ARISE planning projects are eligible to compete for $10 million in implementation funds.
Ultimately, Enos said, the goal is to use the findings from the planning grant to attract investment to develop the new technology, with the pilot rollout occurring in the PA Wilds, Southeast Ohio and possibly other regions in Appalachia identified during the planning process. But first, she said, they need to see what the market and cost analysis shows.
“After doing this work for fifteen years, I am more convinced than ever that if we want a mobile platform solution that actually works for rural in a big way, its design is going to have to emanate out of rural,” Enos said. “Maybe a better solution can’t be built. But maybe it can. It is worth taking a hard look at. We look forward to sharing our findings and ideas with a larger group of Appalachian partners in coming months. Whatever build we scope out, it has to be self-sustaining, and able to inspire action by all three sets of users needed to make it go – regions, local businesses, and visitors/consumers.”
The ARISE planning grant is being matched with $133,000 in state funds from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, a foundational investor in the PA Wilds work, and $125,500 in local funds, bringing the total project funding to $646,000. This includes funding from the Ohio Recreation Council of Appalachia, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Conservation Fund, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA.
Technical assistance partners include representatives from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PA Office of Outdoor Recreation, The Conservation Fund, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, MMI Intellectual Property (a boutique intellectual property law firm), the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
ABOUT THE PA WILDS
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 www.PAWildsCenter.org. To learn more about the WCO, visit www.WildsCoPA.org. Explore the PA Wilds at www.PAWilds.com. Find regionally made products at www.ShopThePAWilds.com.
Britt Madera | Communications Manager
PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc.
[email protected] | 570-948-1051