More partners assist with new PA Wilds Media Lab

More partners assist with new PA Wilds Media Lab

PA Wilds Center says it is making headway on a business accelerator space it is establishing in Kane, and that several new partners have come on board to support the project.

The PA Wilds Media Lab will be the PA Wilds Center’s first office and program space. The 5000-square-foot area, located on the second floor of an older Main Street-type building, will have tools, technologies and classroom space to support the nonprofit’s expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem and its regional partnership work.

(Photos by Tracy Smith of Sixty Foot Films)

Construction on the Media Lab came to a halt during the COVID-19 mandated shutdowns, but picked back up in May, says PA Wilds Center CEO Ta Enos.

“We did a walk-through earlier this month with our general contractor and architect, and I’m happy to report the drywall is hung and finished and the space is really taking shape,” Enos says. “We are just so grateful to the many individuals and organizations that have supported us on this endeavor. The PA Wilds has evolved so much over the last 15 years, and this creative space, modest as it will be, is really needed to support what we’ve built and where we’re headed.” 

PA Wilds Center staff plan to use the Media Lab to develop content to continue to market the region as a premier outdoor recreation destination, and to support the PA Wilds-branded online marketplace that it is launching in 2022 to help rural entrepreneurs reach new markets (more on that later this month). It will also be an important go-to place for partnership meetings, Enos says.  

Once the Center irons out the kinks, it plans to open the Media Lab to the 350+ businesses and organizations in its free Wilds Cooperative network. So, for example, if a home-based maker in the network (there are hundreds of makers in rural PA) needs professional photos of its products, the individual can set up a photo shoot at the Media Lab and use its equipment for a low cost.  

Enos says the decision to place the Media Lab in one of rural PA’s harder-to-renovate kind of spaces was purposeful.

“There are a lot of empty second- and third-floor Main Street buildings in rural PA,” Enos says. “There is a reason for this. They are hard spaces to renovate and use. We felt strongly we couldn’t be leading a rural revitalization effort and not understand, at a bone-deep level, what it meant to help bring one of these buildings back to life. How did we address accessibility? Energy efficiency? We are excited to interpret our experience and share it with others. The nonprofit West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund has been huge in helping us figure it out.”

Major funders of the Media Lab project include the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, USDA, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, The Collins Companies Foundation, and Northwest Foundation. The Laughing Owl Press Company has provided a long-term rent-free lease for the space that also made the project possible. Envinity, a leader in green design, has donated architectural hours to the project. 

This month, the Allegheny Hardwoods Utilization Group (AHUG) and Lumber Heritage Region (LHR) signed on as partners to help with a working forest display at the space.

“We are a huge working forest here in the PA Wilds,” Enos says. “A lot of residents make their living from the woods. To help illustrate and reflect that at the Media Lab, we wanted to be able to point to locally-sourced timber products in the rooms – the sills, trim, counters, etc. — and explain where they came from, share how the region is a leader in sustainable forestry practices, and the importance of working forest landscapes in Pennsylvania and America.”

Enos says AHUG and LHR stepped up pro-bono to assist on the project, including helping the Center identify and connect with local timber companies that were a good fit to donate to the project. The Conservation Fund, a partner in the PA Wilds effort, provided $5000 to help underwrite at-cost timber-related donations.

All of the companies donating will be recognized on a sponsor wall at the Media Lab, and be included in the working forest interpretive exhibit.

Like so many other organizations and companies, the PA Wilds Center took some funding hits because of the COVID crisis, and that didn’t leave much room in the budget for the finishing materials at the Media Lab.

“We are just super grateful that our timber-industry partners stepped up to help us get the final mile and keep the project inspired and authentic. Truly, I would have been crushed to have to go with cheap finish materials from a big box store and miss the opportunity to give a nod to this important industry in our region. We couldn’t have done it without the support of our Pennsylvania harwood industry partners.”

The PA Wilds Media Lab is slated to open in 2022.

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