Second in a series

BURNSIDE - In the race to open the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), emphasis on connecting the park to the local business community hasn't yet begun in earnest.

But it's coming.

"That's phase two," said Jim Backes, AOAA Authority chairman.

He said efforts to engage local businesses were secondary as authority members focused on preparations for the park's opening, which is this Saturday. One of the responsibilities of the still-to-be-filled director of operations role will be connecting the park to local businesses through sponsorship and vendor booth sales.

Currently, businesses have the option of purchasing three types of sponsorship through the AOAA. For $100, the AOAA will list the business on its website; $200 garners both the business name and logo on the website; $500 provides listing and logo on the website as well as placement of the business's brochures in the AOAA welcome center.

Taking notice

Some area businesses have already seen modest increases in patrons when the AOAA opened for private events.

Geno Welsh, co-owner of Brewser's SportsGrille in Coal Township, said business jumped on weekends the AOAA has been open.

"We've seen increased business," he said. "Just from having an event we saw some impact."

Welsh said Brewser's recently purchased property to expand its parking lot to accommodate trailers.

Currently the restaurant is one of a handful of sponsors with the AOAA, and Welsh said they plan additional messages to attract visitors.

"We plan on advertising to influence people to shop locally, eat locally and stuff like that," he said.

Planning ahead

Other business owners have prepared for an onslaught of customers that have not yet arrived.

George Jones, owner of Jones Enterprises, has constructed a storage unit facility near the AOAA trailhead in Burnside specially designed to house ATVs.

Currently four of the 24 completed units are occupied, but only one is using it to store an ATV. All four renters are local.

Jones said he plans to visit the AOAA on opening day, as well as send a representative to connect with potential renters from out of town.

For now, though, "I haven't done advertising," said Jones. "I haven't even put out signs."

Backes said he thought signs welcoming ATV riders would be a great way for businesses to inexpensively advertise to visitors, even if the business isn't one typically involved with the tourism industry.


Repeat customers

Because event teams sometimes spend weeks on the road, their needs can extend into less obvious territories.

Authority member Barry Yorwarth said he had quite a surprise when the event team for the W.E. Rock Dirt Riot arrived in town shortly before their event began on May 2.

"The first thing they did was pull in and go to the laundromat," said Yorwarth.

Yorwarth's experience with events over the years has lead him to believe that the first impression a business makes is key, because event planners are repeat customers.

"These promoters are from all over the country. They tend to set something up once and they get in that rut," said Yorwarth. "They're not going to reinvent the wheel."

Backes said sometimes event managers call ahead to ask about vendors, and his response is to reference sponsors and let the event organizer make decisions on who to use.

"When somebody calls and asks, 'Who are we going to use?' I say, 'We have a full list on our website,'" said Backes.


Opening day vendors

Businesses seeking a more direct connection to visitors by operating a vendor booth at opening day might be out of luck if they haven't been involved with the AOAA yet.

"Opening day is pretty much the people that got us here," said Backes. "Yamaha's going to make the biggest splash. Well, they gave us a $20,000 grant."

County grants manager Kathy Jeremiah said approximately one dozen vendors are slated to operate booths on opening day.

The vendor list includes One Smart Cookie, the caterer from Coal Township The business has been instrumental in the development of the AOAA by supporting volunteer events.

"That's the synergy we're looking for," said Backes.

Even without a person designated to reach out to local businesses thus far, the area's economic development remains a priority in the AOAA's decisions.

"We're using the lowest possible rate [for admission] to attract as many people as possible," said Yorwarth.

Still, no one is sure what to expect.

"We don't know if there will be 10 riders or 500 riders," said Backes.