The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship announced recently it is launching a Facebook Live video series for locally-owned small businesses to share how they are pivoting to survive the coronavirus crisis, and the nonprofit is paying them for the content.
“The Wilds Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times Series” is scheduled to kick off the first week of May. The Center is dedicating $25,000 to the project, and invites the other impact investors to contribute. 100% of donations will be pushed out to small businesses through contracting opportunities to share their stories, says PA Wilds Center Founder and CEO Ta Enos.
“Small businesses are so important to our rural communities and they are in a fight for their lives right now,” Enos says. “We know their cash runways are short – some studies suggest as little as 15 to 27 days before they hit red without any new income. Every dollar counts – and so does every good idea for surviving another day until things normalize. Our goal with this series is to support and accelerate this conversation among rural entrepreneurs and with our communities.”
Under the program, entrepreneurs that participate will be paid $250 for doing a 5-10 minute Facebook Live interview about how their companies are navigating aspects of the crisis. The collection of interviews will be housed at WildsCoPA.org as a resource and shared across social media channels.
“We have an incredible community of innovative, resilient entrepreneurs in the Wilds,” Enos says. “We feel one of the best investments we can make right now is to create opportunities for them to share their stories and pivots with each other and support that sense of community that we’re in this together. We invite entrepreneurs to tune in and contribute.”
PA Wilds Center, a nonprofit, operates an entrepreneurial ecosystem focused on community revitalization that includes hundreds of businesses and organizations across the 13-county Pennsylvania Wilds region, many from the hard-hit service sector and related industries. The Center also operates the regional visitor site pawilds.com, and a retail store, the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, which focuses on selling locally-made products from rural Pennsylvania. The physical shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park has been temporarily shuttered to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Enos said the Center’s store staff have shifted gears, working from home offices and reaching out to more than 150 entrepreneurs in the Wilds Cooperative to get a firsthand look at the impacts they’re facing. Through this outreach, the Center learned that more than 100 people have been laid off and nearly $500,000 in revenue has been lost in the last month alone by this slice of the region’s economy.
“Tourism has grown so much in the PA Wilds over the last 10 years – we just had another record-breaking year in visitor spending last year,” Enos says. “Alongside this, we’ve seen recreation infrastructure investments and many small businesses launch or expand, improving quality of life in our rural communities. As a low-cost, nature tourism destination within a day’s drive of a quarter of the nation’s population, our region will be well-positioned to make a strong tourism recovery when a coronavirus vaccine is found and this crisis is over. We need to do everything we can make sure our small businesses are still standing with us when we get there.”
Enos applauded the many local, state and federal partners that have swung into action amid their own organizational upheavals caused by the pandemic to assist small businesses across the region. “Chambers, Small Business Development Centers, Local Development Districts and lenders were mentioned repeatedly in our surveys,” Enos says. “They’ve been critical to helping small businesses in the PA Wilds understand and access disaster relief funding.”
But Enos stressed that the pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and that “individuals should not underestimate the difference they can make.”
Businesses will be able to apply to share their stories at WildsCoPA.org. Participants must be members of the Wilds Cooperative of PA business network. Membership in the Cooperative is free and most types of locally-owned service sector and related businesses – restaurants, shops, outfitters, makers, lodges, breweries, agri-tourism, creative services — are eligible to join and be part of the series.