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With 'Helping Happy Valley' Initiative, Community Leaders Look to Aid Struggling Local Businesses

by on August 25, 2020 4:34 PM

Two weeks ago, Harris Township Manager Amy Farkas was driving home after a day of hearing how the Big Ten's decision to postpone the fall sports season had left the conference's communities for dead.

As she drove past a Beaver Stadium that will remain empty at least through the end of 2020, it occurred to her that this was an opportunity to step up in support of local businesses that have already struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I thought to myself ‘Instead of thinking that we’re written off for dead, perhaps this is an opportunity that we could take a leadership moment and try to help our business community through what’s been a very hard storm for them to date and what is going to get harder because of no football," Farkas said at Monday night's Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum meeting.

That quickly led to the idea for "Helping Happy Valley," an initiative that aims to help the local business community through marketing, partnerships and financial assistance.

Farkas shared ideas for the campaign with other municipal managers, the Penn State Alumni Association and the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, all of whom expressed support. The COG General Forum unanimously endorsed the campaign and agreed to appoint representatives to a committee, which will also include business owners and other interested parties to help move various aspects of the campaign forward.

Integral to the initiative is encouraging Penn State alumni and fans who would typically visit during the fall to continue to support and spend their dollars at local businesses from afar.

To that end, working with CBICC, the initiative is developing a brand, a logo and a social media hashtag, tentatively called #SupportYourHomeTeam. The program also plans to partner with municipalities, Centre County government, the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and Penn State's Alumni Association and athletic department to promote the region and its businesses.

Some of the no-contact initiatives developed so far include promoting online shopping opportunities at local stores and a virtual Whiteout or Homecoming event modeled on Penn State's virtual Blue-White Game held in the spring, in which fans brought their tailgates online and were visited by coaches and players.

In conjunction with that, special apparel and other gear would be available only from local stores and a portion of the proceeds would go to a relief fund established for local businesses. 

Farkas noted that in addition to the relief fund, Centre County government will be distributing millions of dollars from its CARES Act funding to local small businesses and nonprofits.

Helping Happy Valley also will include the formation of task forces to evaluate the needs of individual industries and leverage resources. Penn State's Small Business Development Center and Smeal College of Business may be called upon to provide technical assistance for business and marketing plans and "how to position their business to go into a growth model through this and not just simple survival," Farkas said.

State College Borough Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said early in the pandemic owners of some of the borough's businesses talked to her about ways to get assistance and she wants to ensure the initiative includes them.

"I want to make sure when we build this we don’t leave out the tiniest businesses in the community," she said. "...It’s very easy when you talk about small businesses to think about the storefronts. We tend to forget there a lot of really tiny one- and two-person ones. All I’d like to do is make sure that when people are talking about this they figure out some way to help support people who haven’t been able to pay their rents or haven’t been able to pay the two or three people who work for them, which is distressing for everybody involved."

Lafer and Farkas both said that the program should be inclusive of businesses beyond downtown State College, and even beyond the Centre Region.

"State College is wonderful, but we all have local businesses that depend upon revenue from people coming to this area, so we want to make sure everyone is included," Farkas said. "We don’t want to leave anybody out. We want to be inclusive. We want to help everybody."

Harris Township Supervisor Bruce Lord said the initiative also should call on local residents to support local businesses.

"I think as we consider how we can market to people outside the region and get them to help, we need to also focus on ourselves internally," he said. "Part of this marketing effort ought to be to focus on people in the region supporting local businesses, going to restaurants if they feel comfortable, ordering takeout... We need to be part of the support system."

Farkas said that in the longer term, part of the initiative should involve the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau working with others to market the region as a travel destination that's ready to welcome visitors.

"I think there should be a community conversation and when we deem it appropriate — and that should be everybody talking together about this — then Happy Valley Adventure Bureau should work with others to start to market that Centre County is safe, Centre County is open for business and here are the things you can do in Centre County under the governor’s guidelines. This is a longer term initiative because we want to be sensitive to the concerns we have in our community [about bringing in large numbers of visitors]."

But for now, their are pieces that can be put in motion immediately and Farkas said she hopes the committee will begin rolling out Helping Happy Valley by mid-September.

"The time to act is now," she said. "We really don’t have six months, three months to sit around and talk about this. We need to sit down today, make an action plan and show leadership, and show our business community that we support them and we’re ready to start rolling things out."



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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