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Penn State trustees urged to stop private meetings

Plus: Is the 'Wilds Are Working' program ... working?

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

October 26, 2023
Inside this edition: Spotlight PA urges Penn State Board of Trustees to comply with Pennsylvania’s open public meetings law, how a Pa. Wilds remote work program measures success, and Centre County fire company’s all-female attack line makes history
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Min Xian / Spotlight PA

A publicly funded initiative that pays out-of-area workers to temporarily live in the Pennsylvania Wilds with the goal of them becoming permanent residents is looking inward as it enters its third year.

Despite the tens of thousands of dollars spent on the Wilds Are Working program since its launch last year, just one participant out of 20 has moved to the rural region with their family. But administrators say relocation isn’t the only measure of success for the initiative.

Even seemingly small acts — like continued visits and discussions about how rural life isn’t for everyone — have a big impact, participants and host organizers told Spotlight PA.

In 2022, Bellefonte and Kane hosted the program, which includes housing and a stipend. This summer, remote workers spent several weeks living in Emporium or Warren. The ultimate aim is for participants to move to the region after their trip ends — which was the case for one family who relocated to Cameron County — to grow the local tax base.

Wilds Are Working is administered by a nonprofit that encourages conservation and economic development in the region using state and private funding. The Appalachian Regional Commission, the Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development all contribute to the program, which is set to run through 2024.

Two grants from the commission, including a $1.5 million “Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization” grant, helped fund the program, said Ta Enos, CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. She added that most of the grant funds didn’t go toward Wilds Are Working.

“There were several other partners and projects included in the two grants,” Enos told Spotlight PA in an email. She did not include further details.

Calculations for total dollars spent on the program will be released once the grant is fully closed out, Enos said. The grants funded roughly $100,000 for remote work stipends across three years in what will ultimately be six communities. Enos added that $110,000 went toward contract funds to support host communities, including funds for a marketing campaign.

That’s about $210,000 total across the program’s three years, Enos said.

The PA Wilds Center estimates that $40,000 in ARC funds will remain for two more communities to act as hosts during the final year.

The grant dollars help the Wilds Are Working communities to pay for housing, events, a marketing campaign, and a $1,500 gift card for each participant to use at local businesses. This year, participating communities were also required to invest several thousand dollars of their own to demonstrate local buy-in.

Similar efforts have become more common nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic popularized remote work, with some even offering thousands of dollars and other free perks to relocate.

Brittany Madera, communications manager at the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, said program participants embraced living in a rural area and walked away with memories and a better understanding of the area.

Though only one family relocated after their stay in Emporium this summer, program officials said others have kept in touch and still visit the area. Feedback from the program also influenced local change, including a Bellefonte coworking space moving to a more spacious office and Kane volunteers deciding to greet new residents with welcome bags.

Marley Parish, Rural Affairs Reporter

» Editor’s Note: Why Spotlight PA urges Penn State’s Board of Trustees to stop deliberating in secret

» Pa.’s Election Code is badly outdated. That could have serious consequences in 2024.

» Centre County fire company’s all-female attack line makes history

» Thousands miss out on low-income tax forgiveness program due to outdated income limits

» Explainer: The history behind Pennsylvania’s flat income tax

» Officials celebrate Pa.’s two hydrogen hubs but many details remain shrouded in secrecy

» Bad tech, staffing shortages hinder Pa. as it reassesses health care coverage for 1000s

» Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office agrees to pay $295K to settle sexual harassment allegation against top aide

» Pa. tax credits result in ‘mixed bag’ for job creation


» VOTER READY: Join us Thursday, Nov. 2 from 6-7 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on voting rights in Pennsylvania, important dates and deadlines, and answering your remaining Election Day questions. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

» RESULTS REVIEW: Join us, the New Pennsylvania Project, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts on Thursday, Nov. 16 from 6-7 p.m. ET for a Q&A on the election results and what they mean for the future of the state. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Daniel Fishel / For Spotlight PA
At Spotlight PA, we put voters front and center in our nonpartisan election coverage. Get all the information you need to make an informed vote this November by visiting our Election Center website
» See how judges affect you and the issues you care about most
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» Complete guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania Supreme Court
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» What to know about the judicial retention questions on Pa. ballots

» Lo que hay que saber sobre las preguntas de retención judicial en la papeleta de noviembre
» Una guía completa sobre quién está en la papeleta, cuándo votar, cómo votar, dónde votar, la emisión de votos por correo y más
» Una guía de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del estado
» Una guía de los candidatos a la Commonwealth y las Cortes Superiores
The duck pond at Penn State’s alumni center, via Spotlight PA investigations editor Matt Dempsey.

Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
» CDT: Penn State executive charged with felony strangulation
» WPSU: Lock Haven approves emergency water source
» Courier Express: DuBois revokes objection to halt on Suplizio payments
» CDT: PSU criticized at teach-in over racial justice inaction
» Mirror: Clearfield jail buys body scanner after 3 inmates overdose
» Gazette: Grant to support growth plans for PA Wilds Center
» Era: Port Allegany named to PA Heart & Soul program 
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Oct. 27: Greenwood Furnace State Park and Penn State recreation students host “It’s the Great Outdoors Charlie Brown!” event in Huntingdon County.

» Oct. 28: Cameron County’s Halloween Spooktacular features a costume parade, haunted house, and trick-or-treating.

» Oct. 28: The Bellefonte Sunrise Rotary Club hosts its Talleyrand Fall Festival fundraiser in Centre County.

» Oct. 29: Decorate pumpkins, sip hot cider, and explore the spooky barn at the Halloween celebration at the Boalsburg Heritage Museum in Centre County.

» Oct. 30: See Bride of Frankenstein on the big screen at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport, Lycoming County.
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