VCC Supports County Tourism through Grant Program

Kimberly Gibson-Durant of Ethan’s Café/The Angry Bean Coffeehouse (Jessica Shirey)

CLEARFIELD – Since 2005 Visit Clearfield County has awarded approximately $250,000 to tourism-related businesses, service organizations and events/attractions. These funds have supported business signage, regionalized marketing, web and brochure design, event marketing and other marketing initiatives, according to Director Holly Komonczi.

In accordance with state guidelines, she said VCC allocates a portion of the county’s collected hotel tax revenues each year to support the growth of its tourism assets and to help them become more visitor-friendly. The VCC has $60,000 set aside each fiscal year for its tourism promotion grant program.

In May, VCC awarded $1,912.50 to Ethan’s Café/The Angry Bean Coffeehouse located at 112 N. Third St. in downtown Clearfield. Co-owner Kimberly Gibson-Durant learned about the grant’s availability via e-mail and word-of-mouth from Peggy Durant of the VCC hotel tax committee.

“It was a very simple, very easy process,” said Gibson-Durant of the grant application. She said the grant funding helped them replace exterior signage for the restaurant/coffeehouse, which was installed by SeKula Signs of DuBois.

Gibson-Durant said they’ve noticed an increase in local patrons who weren’t even aware that Ethan’s Café existed despite it being open for approximately 11 years. In addition, she said they’ve experienced an increase in travelers who are coming off Interstate 80 and driving through town.

“It’s been a very worthwhile investment,” she said.

Last fall, the VCC awarded The Strawberry Tree Shop & Tea Room, located at 578 State St. in Curwensville, a $3,000 tourism promotion grant for television advertising. Like Gibson-Durant, Carolyn Rowles of the Strawberry Tree said the application process wasn’t difficult and the VCC was cooperative and easy to work with throughout the course of the process.

“We spent minimal time completing the process and then to get that much funding,” said Rowles. She said it enabled them to enter another media realm outside of radio, print and online that otherwise wouldn’t have been affordable.

She said it also allowed them to reach a greater population and attract visitors from southern Clearfield County as well as the Altoona, Johnstown and Huntingdon areas. Overall, she said it has boosted the store’s business by 10 to 11 percent based on their review of sales.

In recent years, the Central PA Outdoor and Sports Show received $5,000 grants from the VCC, which event sponsors matched with in-kind advertising.

Tracey Mahan of WJAC-TV and one of the events major sponsors said the tourism promotion grant really helped bolster its advertising scope and to bring in attendees from all over western and central Pennsylvania. She said event organizers have observed attendance increases over the last three years.

“And, we attribute that to the marketing of all three media – [WJAC-TV, and First Media Radio] – and that’s directly related to the grant,” said Mahan. “It was well worth the time and effort.”

Application Process

Komonczi said the grants are awarded based on the merit of qualified applicants and their projects as determined by VCC and the Clearfield County Commissioners. The grant cycles run each spring and fall; this year’s fall deadline is Oct. 12. The fall grant awards will be announced in November.

The VCC grants are made on a cost reimbursement basis following an application process, review, approval and completion. An applicant’s grant receipt is contingent upon submittal of invoices from bona fide tradespeople. The applicants must submit documentation for the total and final cost of the project and all work must be completed within three months of the grant being awarded.

Komonczi said a cash match equal to the grant amount is required for all awarded tourism promotion grants. For example, a request for $7,500 should document an equivalent match for a $15,000 total project cost. An applicant can request up to $7,500 and up to 100 percent of the amount requested may be awarded but isn’t guaranteed.

In applying for the tourism promotion grant, applicants provide a “clear and concise statement” for the use and purpose of their project for which funding is being requested. They must incorporate information about how the project will generate overnight stays in Clearfield County and how they’ll evaluate or quantify these overnight stays.

Further, they provide a brief narrative – one to three paragraphs in length – detailing their overall marketing strategy and target audience. They’re asked about the purpose of their project so that the grant review panel understands the rationale of where and to whom the marketing will be attracting overnight guests. They’re requested to list the media for which they’ll be utilizing to promote their project as well as a description of the coverage area.

Applicants must provide an explanation as to the source of funds being used as leverage with their project and attach commitment letters from other grants, loans, personal or local funds and or in-kind for the project. They must explain what each funding source will be paying for.

Lastly, they provide a timeline for the project and how the grant funding will be used in a timely manner. In doing so, they must submit a detailed budget for the project as well as specify what the tourism promotion grant will fund and what other sources will be funding. They’re to provide the cost for all work included in their project and to define the funding source for each.

From there, VCC’s Hotel Tax Grant Committee is responsible for reviewing all tourism promotion grant applications and recommending recipients to the VCC board, which must approve the awards.

“We have 250 partners that are eligible for grant dollars,” said Komonczi. “I would like to see each applying and expanding their market area.

“If each partner would take advantage, the entire county would benefit. I would like to be giving the funding to different businesses/service organizations each grant round.”

For additional information, please contact VCC at 1-800-GO WILDS or at The VCC Office is located at 12 N. Front St., Clearfield.

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