The Wilds Are Working: A Remote Lifestyle Experience initiative seeks to raise awareness about the PA Wilds being a great place for remote and non-remote workers to live, work, and play. Communities apply to be a part of the program, and two communities are chosen each year to host up to six remote workers, allowing the participants to “test drive” what it’s like to fully immerse themselves in the PA Wilds and live in a rural community.
The participants are folks who have jobs that allow them to live anywhere, so why not live somewhere where you can literally take a hike or kayak before your first meeting of the day? This program gives them the ability to test out living in the region for four weeks in hopes they will consider relocating, and it also positions PA Wilds communities as prime locations for the 21st century workforce.
The Wilds Are Working initiative is administered by the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that strengthens and inspires the communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds. Visit PAWildsCenter.org for more information about the nonprofit’s work.
Although six participants in each community is a small number, the initiative has big results! In the 2022 pilot communities, many of the participants responded that they would be interested in relocating to an area within the PA Wilds within the next five years.
Photo: The Wilds Are Working participants for the Kane 2022 experience
Beyond the success on the participants’ side, the media coverage of the program showed the entire nation (and beyond) that the Pennsylvania Wilds is a beautiful place to live! Media organizations as far as Seattle wrote about the initiative and highlighted the natural assets and wild nature of the region. This media coverage also showed that our area is innovative and worthwhile to invest in.
The Wilds Are Working initiative is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission through Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania (BFTP-CNP). An initiative of the PA Department of Community & Economic Development and funded by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, BFTP-CNP has been providing investment capital, business support services and operational assistance to emerging tech-startups and small manufacturers for nearly 40 years. This initiative is funded regionally and is focused on economic development and workforce growth for the PA Wilds.
Community Lead Organizations receive a small paid contract to support project implementation. However, they are also required to secure match funding in order to show local buy-in to the initiative.
Without communities that are truly invested and excited about the initiative, The Wilds Are Working: A Remote Lifestyle Experience simply would not be possible. These communities apply for the chance to be one of two WAW communities each year. Funding is currently available until 2024.
Because communities are also required to provide matching funds for the initiative, it ensures that there is a true partnership and buy-in from the community.
This isn’t just a program that someone else is telling them to do… the communities truly need to be engaged and excited to be part of it!
Photo: A community welcome event was held for the participants of the Bellefonte 2022 experience, plus many other collaborations with the community
Community lead organizations, or CLOs, take the reins of the project within their own communities, with guidance from the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. Who knows the town better than the people who actually live there? These CLOs are the ones who review participant applications and ultimately choose who will live in their town for that month.
Photo: One of the Kane 2022 participants and her family loved the Knox-Kane Rail Trail
The community leads choose participants who fit the town and who are genuinely interested in potential relocation to the region. They carefully read through applications and interview potential participants, with an eye for those who value and appreciate the more rural towns.
Some participants come from large cities, and others have previously lived in the PA Wilds and are thinking about coming back. Anyone with a remote job who lives outside the PA Wilds is eligible to apply, but CLOs choose the applicants who they believe will truly enjoy temporarily living in their town… and who might relocate there and lay roots down for good!
The feedback that was gained from the Wilds Are Working: A Remote Lifestyle Experience allowed the communities to gain valuable insights on how to better support remote workers who are already residents, build stronger connections within the community, and enhance life for the families who have already rooted themselves in the PA Wilds.
One excellent example is Springboard in Bellefonte, a coworking space that expanded to a larger building after adjusting to Bellefonte residents’ remote working needs.
Photo: Inside Springboard’s new location, with expanded space for remote workers and coworking opportunities
In addition to tangible enhancements, Wilds Are Working communities also find themselves invigorated. The excitement of the participants, who are temporarily calling this region home for a month, is contagious. Residents gain a newfound appreciation for where they live or are re-energized with a passion for their hometown.
While in the region, remote workers receive living stipends that can only be spent at locally owned businesses. This stimulates the local economy in a tangible way, and small business owners immediately see an influx in cash.
Participants are also paired with volunteer opportunities, allowing organizations in the area to benefit from an extra set of hands. This volunteerism aspect of the program also deepens the participants’ connections to the region, making it easier for them to imagine themselves living in the town.
Photo: Part of the Wilds Are Working initiative also includes a “Picture Yourself Here” campaign, which covers empty storefronts with locally inspired displays of what life is like in the town.
The businesses that the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship contracts to provide marketing for the Wilds Are Working initiative are also local businesses, meaning that every dollar is thoughtfully reinvested in the region.
Looking more long term, the communities have a chance to grow their tax base. The hope is that these participants will want to move to the area or encourage other like-minded families to do so, which increases the local dollars via the community’s tax base for years to come.