Initiative aims to help niche market in region

LOCK HAVEN — Central Pennsylvania is home to amazing nature trails, parks, forests, scenic vistas and more.

Consider the world class Pine Creek Rail Trail.

Or the West Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail, which is a National Geographic “Best Adventure Destination.”

Locals regularly use these attractions to enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking and other activities.

And people from all over travel here for outdoor recreation.

This, of course, raises the questions: Why aren’t there more nature-based businesses in the area, and how can one start or grow such businesses?

The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership and the Lock Haven University Small Business Development Center want to help to provide answers to those questions.

The SGP and SBDC will host a workshop entitled, “Starting a Nature-Based Business.”

It’s set for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the LHU Small Business Development Center office, 301 Church Street. The cost is just $15 with dinner included. The registration deadline is Nov. 29.

The workshop will bring together a number of speakers, including current owners of nature-based businesses in the region, finance, tourism and marketing experts.

It’s designed for people who own nature-based businesses and for those interested in starting one.

Gail Kulp, executive director of SGP, said she hopes to see a wide range of participants at the workshop.

“This workshop is open to enterprising college students, existing business owners and retirees as well as anyone else that might be interested in opening or expanding a nature-based business.”

A main objective of the workshop is “to form collaboratives to help grow a nature-based economy,” added Trish Carothers, SPG program coordinator.

SGP has already held workshops in Williamsport and Jersey Shore, and has done community assessments and surveys revealing the kinds of nature-based activities people here enjoy, and how much time and money they spend here.

SGP and its partners will bring that information and ideas to Clinton and Lycoming counties to help small businesses and prospective entrepreneurs get involved in the nature-based economy, Carothers said.

An entrepreneur panel will feature Ed Bowman, owner of Tussey Mountain Outfitting based in Bellefonte. Tussey Mountain is a full-service canoeing and kayaking outfitter and retail shop, providing canoe and kayak rentals, outings, instruction, demonstrations and shuttle service since 1978. Tussey Mountain Outfitting is next to Sunnyside Paddle Park along Spring Creek in Bellefonte.

Joining Bowman will be Josh Helke of Organic Climbing USA. Helke said he is committed to “making the best climbing gear possible.” Located in Phillipsburg, Centre County, Helke’s business provides handmade functional, durable and unique gear. Each piece is painstakingly worked on, and thanks to small scale production, an artistic touch can be added to each piece and they’re able to speak with customers directly about the product.

The third member of the entrepreneur panel is Tom Svec of Tom Svec Furniture Design, located on the Great Island just outside of Lock Haven. Svec’s workshop-studio has been around for over 20 years. The site of the business has been a center of agriculture and commerce since before the arrival of Europeans in North America. To this day, that area remains one of the most prolific sites in the state for Native American artifacts. Tom believes it is appropriate to continue with that tradition of handmade craftsmanship. All of his pieces are original in concept, minimal in their use of materials, and respectful of the sustainable hardwood timber resources indigenous to the Northeast. The intent is to produce timeless, utilitarian design objects that will enrich the environments in which they are placed.

There also will be a marketing panel consisting of Julie Brennan and LaKeisha Knarr.

Brennan is the tourism and chamber director for the Clinton County Economic Partnership. She has been a part of the local landscape for more than 40 years, has been with the Partnership since 2015 and loves working with and supporting the local business community.

Knarr is an outreach specialist for the PA Wilds Center for Entreprenuership, Inc., a nonprofit organization working to marry conservation and economic development in the multi-county PA Wilds region. In this role, Knarr works with entrepreneurs and artisans to inform them of the center’s work to grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy and the benefits of joining the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania, the PA Wilds Center’s primary arts and business development program.

The lender panel will have three people who work in economic development and financing.

Mike Flanagan is CEO of the Clinton County Economic Partnership. He administers the Clinton County Revolving Loan Program, a county-based revolving loan fund with eligible uses such as land acquisition and development, plant construction, machinery and equipment and working capital.

Next is John Reichard, a senior relationship manager at SEDA-Council of Governments. John has been employed with the SEDA-COG Business Finance Department since 1994, starting as a financial analyst. He became a loan officer in 1999. He took over program directorship in 2010 and in 2017. He is responsible for outreach, marketing and loan underwriting and approvals.

Also on the panel will be Paul Caimi, a commercial loan officer for Woodlands Bank, where he works with customers on business banking and financing needs. These needs can be in a variety of areas, from commercial real estate purchases, equipment and inventory purchases, investment property purchases, working capital lines of credit, and more. Ciami said he works with each borrower to come up with the financing that makes the most sense for the individual borrower.

Registration is available by visiting the SGP website at www.susquehannagreenway.org/nature.