The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship has been selected as a Host Community for the Economic Recovery Corps (ERC), an opportunity made possible by the Economic Development Administration.
The PA Wilds Center’s project, “Advancing Rural PA’s Outdoor Recreation Sector,” seeks to accelerate job creation and increase connectivity, awareness, participation, community engagement and capacity for outdoor recreation and entrepreneurship in communities of rural PA.
As a Host Community, the PA Wilds Center went through a competitive process to be matched with an ERC Fellow who will be placed with the non-profit for a 30-month period to implement the project beginning in early 2024.
Each project across the United States receives a dedicated fellow (fully funded for the 30 months from the ERC program) who serves as a field catalyst to enhance, strengthen and coordinate relationships and local efforts alongside the host community.
The ERC Fellowship program aims to build capacity in economically distressed areas across the United States while cultivating the next generation of economic development leaders.
The ERC Fellowship was launched in 2023 through a $30 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
It is led by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and supported by 6 other national economic development organizations.
Among over 500 host community applications, PA Wilds Center was selected to participate in the first ERC cohort alongside 65 other host sites and fellows leading innovative projects.
Officially starting in February 2024, the 65 ERC Fellows and Hosts will come together as a nationwide network of diverse practitioners and leaders with the passion, skills and vision to advance new ways of doing economic development that promote transformative change and lead to a more just, equitable and sustainable economy for all.
The PA Wilds Center’s ERC Project Overview
For over 20 years, the PA Wilds region, encompassing more than 2 million acres of public land, has been purposefully engaging in place-based development for its outdoor recreation and tourism sectors.
The goal is to diversify local economies, attract investment, retain population, inspire stewardship and enhance overall quality of life. This project guided by the PA Wilds Center aims to evolve stakeholder and investment frameworks, ensuring outdoor recreation programs remain locally informed and responsive to opportunities and challenges as the economy grows.
The project will focus on the highly rural Pennsylvania Wilds region, covering 13 counties in north-central Pennsylvania.
The PA Wilds Center’s ERC Fellow will conduct partner outreach, oversee governance plan evolution for the nonprofit’s growing value chain network of more than 600 businesses and nonprofits, identify best practices for countywide strategic planning that can become a model for counties in the region to tap into the regional brand and network, and facilitate partner conversations on prioritizing recreation infrastructure projects.
“The ERC program is a great example of doing economic development differently and truly making a federal program inclusive to rural,” said Ta Enos, founder and chief executive officer of the PA Wilds Center.
“Finding organizational capacity to take on transformative projects is a major challenge in historically underserved rural areas all across America. Finding match dollars to compete is another barrier.
“The ERC program brings the capacity, and does not require a match. We are thrilled to be selected, and to see other rural hubs – including several in the outdoor recreation sector – secure fellows.
“Our ERC Fellow will play a key role during a period of pivotal growth for the PA Wilds Center as the backbone nonprofit for the PA Wilds effort, as well as supporting how communities can use outdoor recreation to help revitalize and retain population.”
Meet Marc Wilken, the PA Wilds Center’s ERC Fellow
PA Wilds Center is thrilled to introduce Marc Wilken, the Economic Recovery Corps (ERC) Fellow matched with the region to support the Advancing Rural PA’s Outdoor Recreation Sector project.
Hailing from the Philadelphia area, Marc is excited to deploy his program development background to create vibrant communities through the outdoors.
As a nature enthusiast and environmental advocate, he hopes to see the natural assets of the PA Wilds region help build more resilient ecosystems that can flourish and position the people and places across the PA Wilds to thrive.
Marc will play a pivotal role in deepening the PA Wilds Center’s partner networks at a critical growth period and evolving regional systems in a way that is truly transformational for rural communities, hitting all five of the intended outcomes: accelerated job creation; increased connectivity; increased awareness and participation; increased community engagement; and increased capacity.
Read about Marc’s background and learn more about the ERC project: Economic Recovery Corps Fellows.
Learn more about the ERC program and the various projects across the US and stay up to date on the ERC’s happenings by signing up for updates at www.iedconline.org/ERC_Updates.