Top of Page

On the Road: North-Central Pennsylvania’s Best-Kept Secret


On the Road again in North-Central Pennsylvania and lots to see

Benezette Wines

DCED Secretary Alan Walker

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in the Pennsylvania Wilds, and so is the region’s sense of community.

Those were some of the messages that came across last week as the PA Department of Community & Economic Development went on the road again, this time to the north central region of Pennsylvania.

The region’s spirit was on display before the trip even began, with local business and economic development partners adding new events up until the last minute to entice state partners to stay longer and see more.

“Smart people,” said a beaming Carolyn Boser Newhouse, Deputy Secretary for DCED’s Office of Innovation & Investment, who, like Secretary Alan Walker, hails from the region. “Very smart people.”

All told, 50 DCED staffers visited 65 sites throughout six counties over four days – a record for the department’s “On the Road” events, which usually target 50 sites over two or three days. Previous stops were in the Northwest and Northeast parts of the state.

The itinerary reflected the diversity of the region’s economy, with state partners touring businesses and projects related to education, transportation, banking, manufacturing, tourism and resource extraction.

Batter Up
One business – Brookville Wood Products – touched on the three latter industries. Its inventive story began in 1965 when the owners started making products for the furniture and flooring industry, and billets for bat manufacturers. Being in the hardwood capital of the world, the baseball fans were inspired in 1999 to start a bat division and sell bats under their own brand.

With support from the state to purchase a special lathe tool, BWP Bats is now one of only a few businesses in the world certified to make bats for the professional leagues. They have a bat in the Hall of Fame and have also turned their bat factory, off I-80 in Jefferson County, into an important tourism destination in the region. Upwards of 12,000 people tour the factory each year. DCED staffers added to that figure Friday.

That is an entrepreneur,” Newhouse said, after hearing the owners’ story.

Having staffers see businesses first hand and understand how DCED’s programs have helped them grow is one of the main goals of the On the Road tours.  “We want them to know that their work matters,” Newhouse explained. “That the applicant isn’t a piece of paper – it’s a real business.”

Another goal of the trip is to celebrate and recognize the department’s many partners in the field. DCED has 89 new faces, Newhouse said, and this is a chance for partners to meet some of them.

Rob Swales, CEO of the Clearfield County Economic Development Corp, which powers, one of the On the Road sponsors, said at a luncheon during the trip that it was “extremely helpful and valuable” to have state partners visit. “You don’t get that opportunity very often,” he said. “It helps build that relationship.”

The CCEDC did a presentation for state partners showcasing the positive economic impacts of Marcellus Shale development at the county level. Afterward the group toured a local company involved in the industry, Forum Energy Technologies, which has created 128 full time jobs, according to Swales. Forum Plant Manager David Schultz led the tour.

He explained later in a press release: “Since December 2011, the facility has transformed into a state-of-the-art production facility to support Forum’s increased demand for customized gas production equipment serving not only the Marcellus and Utica shale activity, but to support and enhance our production services in other shale deposits in Texas and the Midwest.”

Friendly Souls
Many of the staffers who participated in the trip had not been to the Pennsylvania Wilds region and at least one was hesitant about driving its country roads for several days. The region has vibrant anchor towns in each county, and many small villages, but it is known best for its 2 million acres of public land and rural landscape. What if your car breaks down and you don’t have cell coverage to call for help?

Walker told a packed luncheon Friday that he told the staffer not to worry. “People in Harrisburg know how proud I am of this region,” Walker said. He said he told the staffer: “Some friendly soul will stop and help you – that’s just the way people are up here.”

As it happened, someone’s car did break down during the trip. And without hesitation, a partner in the field gave the person his car to use for two days.   

“That’s what people do here,” Newhouse said.

At one point Thursday, after splintering into groups to hold workshops, tour downtown revitalization efforts and visit a number of industrial sites – GKN Sinter Metals, Super Abrasive Machining Innovations, Emporium Hardwoods and the Stackpole Industrial Complex among them – the group reconvened and made its way out to the new Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette for a press conference and a team building dinner. As reported in a story earlier this month, the new visitor center has had half a million visitors since opening in 2010 and is helping drive small business growth in the area.

Secretary Walker announced a $200,000 Small Business First loan for Wapiti Woods Guest Cabins to build four new cabins; and an $85,000 Film Tax Credit to support the filming of Friends in Wild Places, which airs on the Pursuit Channel and is helping capture the beauty and character of the region while branding fishing lures and other outdoor products made locally by a powdered metal company, Continuous Metal Technology, through its new division, TomBob Outdoors.

TomBob Outdoors CEO Tim Smith said he was grateful for the support for Friends in Wild Places. “There are a number of people out of this local area that don’t realize the vast amount of resources we have to offer,” he told reporters. “One of the things we want to do with the show is really introduce that to everybody.”

Wapiti Woods Guest Cabins expects to add three new jobs through its expansion. Continuous Metal Technology and TomBob estimated adding 10 positions to its existing staff of 24.

“Supporting the growth of small businesses remains a top priority of the governor,” Walker told reporters. “They are an economic driver that accounts for nearly one half of the state private sector employment.”

After the press conference, about 30 staffers and partners, including Walker, Executive Secretary Richard Hudic and Newhouse, crowded into a horse-drawn wagon for a ride through elk habitat with Rawley Cogan, President and CEO of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, the non-profit that runs the center for the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which own the facility.

Decked out in a KECA button down, jeans and a cowboy hat, Cogan and a volunteer gave the Belgian horses the okay. The wagon lumbered slowly out to a field where more than half a dozen wild bull elk and many more cows and calves were gathered. The sun began to set and a fog settled in. In the quiet you could hear crickets.

The sound of elk bugling grew louder as the wild herd came into view. Cogan stopped the wagon and turned around and whispered to the group: “I don’t know any place else in the country where you can do this,” he said.

Two bull elk sparred. Their antlers clacked as they fought for the right to mate with the cows.

“Oh my gosh,” someone in the wagon whispered. People grabbed their iPhones and Blackberrys and cameras.

The group watched the elk in silence from that location and then another until it was almost dark.   

“That was really special,” Hudic said quietly as the wagon made its way back to the visitor center. It was his first time to elk country, he said.

Asked about the experience afterward, Walker called it “impressive.” “If you like nature and you like wilderness areas you don’t have to go far – it’s right here in Pennsylvania,” he said. “And it’s as good as it gets.”

Feeding Time
After the wagon rides the group gathered at the newly remodeled Benezette Hotel less than a mile away for a team building dinner sponsored by the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, a private non-profit that helps local sponsors cover the cost of food, lodging and other expenses during DCED’s On the Road trips. Owner Brian Kunes welcomed the group to his establishment while his business partner, Matt Castle, cooked in the kitchen. Kunes said the buffet included chicken, mashed potatoes, ribs and, of course – elk burgers.

“If it’s good you can thank me, if not, I’ll get Matt up here and you can talk to him,” he joked and the group laughed.

DCED’s low interest loan programs helped Kunes and Castle purchase the Benezette Hotel a few years ago, and Kunes took a moment Saturday to share his story. He told the group that when they first bought the business he was living in Washington, D.C. He commuted to the Pennsylvania Wilds every weekend for three years before he was able to make the leap to running the hotel full time. The business has seen robust growth since then, expanding its restaurant this year to meet the growing demand of elk tourism.  

“I grew up here,” Kunes said. “Born and raised and then I left for about 20 years. I always wanted to come back, and this was my avenue to come back.”

The Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team, a group consisting of more than 50 stakeholders including the region’s 12 county governments, thanked DCED for being an excellent partner in the effort to grow nature tourism in the region and presented the group with ball caps embroidered with the PA Wilds logo. Many people wore them the rest of the evening.

After dinner a group of women from the department carpooled back to their cabin for the night – another arrangement made possible by the Team Pennsylvania Foundation. As their minivan slowly made its way down the country road in the dark in elk country, Joan Wallett, an economic development analyst at DCED, told the others in the car that it really meant a lot to her to participate in the trip.

“It really helps you see the impact of our programs on people’s lives,” she said.

TATABOLINE ENOS travels the Pennsylvania Wilds working with small business owners, entrepreneurs and residents who are helping grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy. She lives in a small farming town in the northwest corner of the PA Wilds with her husband and two young sons. For more information on starting a business in the PA Wilds, visit To explore the region, check out 

Entrepreneurship, Features