Connect … collaborate
By BOB ROLLEY
A workshop this past week on starting a nature-based business drew upward of 45 people from the region, all interested in promoting any type of business that promotes, relies on, involves or is connected to outdoor recreation, tourism and the “green life.”
In fact, a survey of visitors to this region determined a need in this area for (or for more):
5 Guides, outfitters and shuttle services to make it easier and more enjoyable to explore biking, hiking, and water trails.
5 More farm to table restaurants, microbreweries, and locally produced foods.
5 More outdoor recreation, arts and cultural events.
5 Outdoor event planners and promoters.
5 Assistance with trip planning and trip itineraries.
5 Better maps, apps and signage.
With that, a panelist of three area businesspeople whose lives and careers revolve around environmental stewardship inspired their audience during a discussion.
Ed Bowman, owner of Tussey Mountain Outfitting (www.tusseymountainoutfitters.com) based in Bellefonte, Josh Helke of Organic Climbing USA outside Phillipsburg (www.organicclimbing.com), and Tom Svec of Tom Svec Furniture Design on Great Island just outside Lock Haven (www.tomsvecfurniture.com) recalled how they started, the hard work it takes, the building of connections to people and nature that has helped them to grow and sustain their nature-based businesses.
“I’ve been able to surmount all of the mistakes I’ve made,” said Bowman.
Tussey Mountain Outfitters is now one of the only outfitters in this part of Pennsylvania. It’s next to the Sunnyside Paddle Park along Spring Creek in Bellefonte.
Bowman said he’s found a way to compete with the big box retailers selling kayaks and canoes because he offers quality boats and has built and caters to customers who want the most out of their outdoor experiences.
Pennsylvania’s natural beauty — its streams, rivers, lakes, mountains and trails — are his assets, Bowman said.
Helke offered an impressive video of how his business started in 2003 out West in his kitchen and garage, and ultimately moved to Phillipsburg in Centre County, employing nine people and producing one-of-a-kind, crafted climbing gear — pads, bags, apparel and more.
Using the internet and social media, Organic Climbing has customers from all over the world, he said.
Lock Haven’s own Svec talked of his travels, but also how Pennsylvania is “supremely blessed” with nature’s beauty.
He urged attendees to work harder to connect, network and collaborate to better share that beauty and hospitality with visitors.
In fact, “good networking” over the years is something Svec credited with helping to grow his business of building original, handcrafted furniture pieces and art.
“Connect all of the pieces” of attractions, events, culture, history, hospitality and more — a community’s unique assets — to entice visitors, increase tourism, recreation and the outdoors and keep people coming back, Svec said.
Selling scenic beauty is easy, but visitors want experiences so businesses, institutions and individuals in communities trying to attract tourists must unify to provide those experiences, he emphasized.
The workshop was conducted by the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, hosted and co-organized by the Lock Haven University Small Business Development Center, and sponsored by Woodlands Bank. Other speakers included topics on marketing and selling products and services by LaKeshia Knarr, outreach specialist with the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship Inc., Julie Brennen, chamber and tourism director with the Clinton County Economic Partnership; how to finance such businesses by Paul Caimi, commercial loan officer with Woodlands Bank, Mike Flanagan, CEO of the Clinton County Economic Partnership, John Reichard, senior relationship manager for SEDA-Council of Governments, and Tim Keohane, director of the SBDC who emphasized the need for business plans.