The Wilds are Working: How WFH could change the PA Wilds job landscape
By Cara Aungst
This July, remote workers are flipping the script on livability
Here’s what the initiative could mean for the PA Wilds.
Abbi Peters recently had a business meeting in a lodge that overlooked a mountain vista. While she met with local business leaders, an eagle flew past the window. As she got into her car, she thought to herself, “Some people will save up all year to be able to experience this beautiful place for just a few days before they go back to their home. We get to live and work here.”
Peters is the COO for the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, and part of an initiative called “The Wilds Are Working: A Remote Lifestyle Experience,” that offers remote workers the opportunity to live and work in the towns of Bellefonte and Kane for one month. It’s a move that could prove life-changing for Work From Home talent, as well as the PA Wilds.
The initiative was created to help tackle the challenges that come with outmigration and a dwindling tax base by empowering workers to try out living, working and becoming involved in communities in the PA Wilds. It’s an invitation to have the career that you want in a place that you love. Or, as Peters puts it: “It’s a place where you can go mountain biking before your first Zoom call.”
Steve Brawley, President/CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pa, is one of the investing partners of the program. He says that it’s an especially good fit for tech workers who are working from home in crowded, urban areas. “I would love to tell people in New York, and DC and Boston that you can live here and have a lifestyle, costs and opportunities that you can only dream of affording in the large metros.”
Photo: Springboard in Bellefonte, one of the coworking spaces in Bellefonte.
Remote workers from across the country vying for chance to WFH in the PA Wilds
The initiative launched in April, and remote workers could apply for a spot in either charming Victorian Bellefonte, located in Centre County, or Kane, a historic gem in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest Landscape.
“We received our first applications within 24 hours of the initiative launching,” Ellen Matis, Founder + CEO, Hello Social Co. and project manager of the Remote Worker program said. “We received applications from potential candidates living in Pennsylvania, as well as states as far as North Carolina, Oklahoma, and California.”
In fact, by the application deadline, dozens of people had applied for the six spots in Bellefonte (applications are still coming in for the Kane destination).
A committee of local business owners, long-time residents and newer residents helped to select the winners of the giveaway. When they land in Bellefonte in July, each recipient will receive free housing with the powerful wifi needed to work remotely. In addition, they’ll get a gift card that will offer experiences provided by grant funding.
Photo: Kane, one of the two towns participating in the remote work initiative.
“In Bellefonte, they’ll get to decide whether they use that to get their morning coffees, try a meal at one of the many restaurants, or even go on a kayaking adventure with Tussey Mountain Outfitters. The card only works at Bellefonte businesses, allowing us to keep those dollars local during the duration of the program,” Matis said.
In addition, a welcome committee will help visitors navigate life in Bellefonte, helping them to find trail heads, pick out the best spots for grabbing dinner, and make them feel like they’re getting a truly “local” experience while they’re here.
Photo: Participants will enjoy the culture of their host town, visiting places such as the Bellefonte Art Museum.
In Kane, workers will enjoy a destination in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest with easy access to fishing, camping, water recreation and trails for biking, hiking, walking and ATV excursions. Kane’s downtown offers shopping and dining, craft beverages and art. The town is home to the brand new, state-of-the-art PA Wilds Media Lab, opening in 2022. The lab will have tools, technologies and classroom space to support the nonprofit’s expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem and its regional partnership work.
Photo: The PA Wilds Media Lab, located above Laughing Owl Press in Kane.
Looking forward: How remote workers will change the landscape
“The PA Wilds is in this amazing location — it’s close to major cities and yet is this gorgeous green land filled with outdoor adventure,” Jennilyn Schuster, Main Street Manager at Downtown Bellefonte Inc. said. “You don’t only come here for vacation — you can actually live here.”
Photo: The hiking trail below the wreckage of Kinzua Bridge at Kinzua Bridge State Park, a short drive from Kane. Besides hiking the trail underneath the bridge, you can also walk onto the tracks themselves and stand on the glass Kinzua Skywalk 225 feet above the valley.
Schuster moved to Bellefonte from Charlotte, North Carolina, and said that coming to the PA Wilds allowed her to redistribute her time. “I’m not in a car for two hours a day. I can get up and go for a run, hear the birds and see the mountains before I start my work day. I’ve gotten to enjoy the serenity of a small town that has tons of growth opportunities and quality-of-life infrastructure built into it.”
She says that the vision of the Remote Lifestyle Experience is to help remote workers see what she found in the PA Wilds. She says that as more talent moves to the area, they will benefit from the affordability, change of pace and livability, and the PA Wilds will benefit as well. “As remote workers ultimately decide to move to the area, they bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and diversity into Bellefonte — a surge of energy. It sets a model for future generations in the PA Wilds — to move here to Bellefonte.”
Matis agrees. “Long-term, we hope that remote workers see that there is a place for them in Bellefonte, and the PA Wilds region as a whole. Our community offers many amenities that these kinds of workers crave, like indoor and outdoor coworking spaces, multiple coffee shops, walkability, plenty to do around town, and more. The cost of living here is affordable compared to some major cities known for tech companies. And where else can you hike a trail in the morning or go fly fishing and be back for work, commute-free?”
Photo courtesy of Ellen Matis: Kayaking at Bald Eagle State Park, just a short distance from Bellefonte.
Ultimately, Peters says, the program is inviting remote workers to flip the script on what they value, and what they want in their work-life balance. “It’s not for everyone,” she acknowledges. “But through this initiative, people can really experience living in this region — the quality of life, the great assets — and they can see that there is a possibility of a life that they can’t even imagine.”
Bellefonte has selected participants for their July experience, and Kane is still accepting applications for their experience which will take place from September 14-October 14. You can find out more about the initiative — and updates on the remote workers’ experiences — at wildsareworking.com.
About the Author:
Cara Aungst lives in Central PA with her husband, two dogs and five kids (who are all taller than her). She writes about travel, innovation and industry in the heart of Pennsylvania. You can reach her on https://www.linkedin.com/in/cara-aungst-499890a0/ or at mailto:CaraAungst@gmail.com.
More From Our Blog