PA Wilds launches new website, expands membership and is now free to join
This month, the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (PA Wilds Center) announced three updates to its flagship program, the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania (WCO) — a new website was launched, the membership program was expanded to include new organization types, and the program no longer requires annual membership dues. The initiative is designed to help make the program more accessible to businesses and organizations in the region and to better engage the traveling public.
The WCO is the main program through which small businesses and organizations engage with the Pennsylvania Wilds brand, networks and platforms. PA Wilds Center staff hopes that these program updates will help WCO members and small businesses in the region leverage the PA Wilds brand and ultimately capture even more of Pennsylvania’s $29.1 billion outdoor recreation economy regionally.
“We saw that the WCO could be even more inclusive if fees were removed and if we were able to find a way to pull even more business and organization types into the fold,” said managing director Abbi Peters, who has spearheaded the expansion project. “Instead of upfront membership fees, we’re moving to a model where the program is free to join and members will pay for the services they choose as a fit for their business type. Of course, there will still be a jury review process to determine if applicants are a good fit for the program, and there will be a fee for Creative Maker jury review.”
Peters said the goal for these changes is two-fold.
“First, we hope that this will encourage more businesses and organizations to take advantage of the WCO as a marketing resource. Second, the traveling public will also be able to more easily understand what businesses are in the region and utilize their services,” said Peters.
Peters noted that in addition to all members of the WCO being featured in the WCO member directory, those with brick-and-mortar establishments are featured on pawilds.com, to help visitors plan their trips and find regional amenities and attractions. Products made by creative entrepreneurs in the WCO are the supply line for the PA Wilds Conservation Shops physical and online stores, and joining the WCO is the entry point for those looking to team up on PA Wilds licensed products in the marketplace.
“The Wilds Cooperative is currently about 300 members strong, and now almost any PA Wilds-based entity can find a way to leverage this effort,” said Peters.“The program has a lot of components, and we wanted to make it simpler and more effective. We streamlined the application process and divided all of the membership types into two overarching categories: Creative Makers and Experience Makers. We hope this will help potential applicants easily understand how they fit into the program.”
The Creative Makers membership category includes businesses and artisans who make products that appeal to visitors. The two main membership types include Juried Artisans, which based on jury score can be accepted at the Basic or Professional level, as well as Creative Industries Partners, a membership type that includes a variety of creative professionals and businesses who provide creative services or products.
The Experience Makers membership category encompasses those organizations and establishments that add to a visitor’s overall experience. Membership types include Host Sites (such as restaurants, lodges, breweries, theaters, museums, galleries, state parks, annual events, public art and more); Trading Posts (retail locations and specialty boutiques); Field Guides (outfitters, guide services and visitors bureaus); and Community Partners (nonprofit organizations without a brick-and-mortar presence, municipalities, libraries, wellness centers, realtors, chambers of commerce, economic development and revitalization groups, and business development centers).
“Put simply: if you produce things, you’d likely be a Creative Makers member; if you provide an experience, you might want to look into joining as an Experience Maker member,” Peters said.
The WCO seeks to ultimately grow and connect the unique establishments central to place-based tourism development. In a time when most people get their travel inspiration online, and for a region that geographically represents about a quarter of the Commonwealth’s landmass, the internet is an extremely important resource to help fulfill the WCO’s goals.
“Our old website was a great site with tons of information; however, it wasn’t always intuitive. We put a lot of thought into the website and what we could do to make it easier for both businesses and the public to navigate, find information and ultimately take advantage of the program,” said Peters. “The new membership site will better integrate with our traveler site, pawilds.com, continuing to build on our other promotional assets.”
The new site was developed by considering the different needs of the various members, Peters explained.
“An artist might be looking to sell products at our gift shops, while a restaurant seeks to have their business tied to our visitor website, a producer hopes to put the PA Wilds logo on their products, and a community is hoping to gain visibility as part of the Pennsylvania Wilds movement. Each of these opportunities, and many more, are called out throughout the site to help steer people to the places that mean the most to their business or organization,” said Peters.
Additional information about the WCO can be found online at https://WildsCoPa.org/.