PA Wilds communities targeted for investment under program
Warren, PA — A state grant program to assist small Main Street-type businesses that were negatively impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns launches Tuesday at 9 a.m., and officials say more than 60 communities in the Pennsylvania Wilds are targeted for investment.
The $225 million statewide program will provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses that have been economically impacted by COVID-19. It targets Main Street type businesses with 25 or fewer employees and annual gross revenue of $1 million or less.
Hard-hit sectors, including retail, food and hospitality, health and wellness, personal care businesses (such as salons) and child and adult day care, are a priority under the program.
“This program is a really good fit for small tourism-related businesses in the rural Pennsylvania Wilds region,” says PA Wilds Center Chief Executive Officer Ta Enos.
“We are strongly encouraging all small businesses in the industry who have been impacted to consider applying.”
Women-owned businesses and businesses located in communities with official Main Streets programs and other state supported designations, such as PA Wilds, will get additional consideration as a secondary priority.
“Targeted businesses located in the PA Wilds region that are applying to the grant program should make sure to choose “PA Wilds gateway” and then pick their community name from the pulldown menu,” Enos says. “It will help their application score higher.”
The PA Wilds region is home to the greatest concentration of public lands in the Commonwealth, and coordinated local, state and federal investments have been made for more than a decade to grow the region as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies, create jobs, improve quality of life and inspire stewardship.
Many small businesses and communities are actively involved in the effort, as are the region’s 12 county governments through a groundbreaking Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement, established in 2006.
Prior to COVID, the PA Wilds region saw two years of record-setting visitation, and in a normal year the region does more than 15 times its population in day trip visitors.
“On a landscape as rural as ours, every major town is a gateway community to the public assets around it, as are many smaller communities and villages located near major tourism assets,” Enos says.
“More than 60 communities from the Wilds are listed as gateways in this grant program.”
“If your community is not on the drop-down menu, don’t lose hope,” Enos says. “There are additional criteria in the grant program, such as an area’s median income levels and population decline, that favor rural applications.”
“Every county in the PA Wilds has struggled with outmigration and a shrinking tax base and we are grateful to see that listed as a consideration. It’s a defining issue out here.”
At least 50 percent of the grants will be awarded to historically disadvantaged businesses at least 51 percent owned and operated by persons who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander, as these types of businesses have traditionally been discriminated against and disadvantaged when seeking financial services and financial products.
The grant program is being administered through Pennsylvania’s network of Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs.
Officials say every county in the state is served by two CDFIs under the program, but Enos encourages businesses from the PA Wilds that are applying to do so through the Progress Fund.
“Every CDFI has its priorities, and the PA Wilds is one of those for the Progress Fund,” Enos says. “The Progress Fund regularly serves the region so it is the CDFI with the best working knowledge of our landscape.
“David Kahley, the Progress Fund CEO, has been a champion for our region in this process. If it were my business, that’s where I’d submit my application.”
PA Wilds Center is establishing a program support call center in partnership with The Progress Fund. Other CDFIs are using a call center based in California.
“We appreciate Kahley keeping this service in region,” Enos says. “Most questions can be answered by reading the guidelines.
“We strongly encourage people to read those before calling. As with any government aid program, there will be a rigorous due diligence process each of these applications will go through at the CDFI, state and federal level.”
Officials stress that this is not a first come, first serve program. There will be multiple rounds of funding. The application window for the first window opens June 30 at 9 a.m.
Applicants will have 10 business days to complete the application before the first window closes July 14. Applications will continue to be received after that date, and any that are unfunded will be bumped to future rounds for consideration. Applicants do not have to resubmit to each round.
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.
Enos says she is optimistic the program will help a lot of hurting businesses in rural PA.
“I’ve already had small business owners reach out to me after reading the guidelines and say, ‘wow I think this program will actually help me.’ That’s exciting,” Enos says.
“You never know how these things are going to go until they open, but I can say a lot of thought went into it, and there was real dialogue on how to make it fair to rural.”
The Progress Fund’s latest updates on the program guidelines can be found at https://www.progressfund.org/grants-for-small-businesses/.