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2017-10-20 / Community (County Spotlight)

New downtown businesses, growing annual events bode well for the Juniata River Valley

Spotlight on Mifflin and Juniata counties

Juniata and Mifflin counties have long held onto businesses and manufacturers that are proven steady economic drivers. Companies like Kish Bank, Philips Ultrasound, Nittany Paper and First Quality make up the economic foundation for the region. However, truth be told, your typical visitor won’t necessarily notice these companies. They’ll notice the new cafe or deli instead. They’ll notice the new facades on the buildings downtown or the street vendors out for the festival. For people from the outside looking in, these are the indicators of a town’s potential.

“A lot of communities across Pennsylvania have been seeing a growth in smaller businesses. We’ve had several coffee shops pop up in downtown Lewistown ourselves. They’re never going to be major employers but I think they set the mood and the tone for a community. We’re a manufacturing heavy community like many in Pennsylvania and are always looking for those little victories where people are willing to take an entrepreneurial risk and grow their dreams,” said Nick Felice, president and CEO of Mifflin County Development Corporation and executive secretary of Mifflin County Industrial Development Authority.

Lewistown’s annual Goose Day celebration stems from the legend that if you eat goose on Sept. 29, you will never want for money all year round. 
Photo courtesy of Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau Lewistown’s annual Goose Day celebration stems from the legend that if you eat goose on Sept. 29, you will never want for money all year round. Photo courtesy of Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau “Risk takers are stepping up and showing those entrepreneurial tendencies and it’s good to see.”

“It’s an attitudinal thing. The negatives are there. The [opioid crisis] affects us and is taking a toll on our community, but you have to build back against that. People of enterprise who are willing to take risks can foster that.”

To find out how this growing entrepreneurial spirit is bolstering the Juniata River Valley, Pennsylvania Business Central spoke with Jenny Barron Landis, executive director of the Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau.

PBC: What are the Juniata River Valley’s strongest assets when it comes to attracting tourism dollars?

Landis: Our biggest asset when it comes to filling hotel rooms is the fact that we are on the way to Penn State’s Main Campus. From football games to Parents Weekend to graduation, Penn State events bring people through the Juniata River Valley and many choose our local hotels to stay in.

Our natural surroundings are an asset for hunters, fishermen, hikers and others that take advantage of state forest lands and the Juniata River. And finally, another asset is something I call “Country Americana.” Our quaint small towns, picturesque farmlands and alluring country roads offer an experience that most Americans, especially those from urban areas, think is gone.

PBC: What festival and events have seen growth over the past year? Are there any plans for new annual events?

Landis: Our Visitor’s Bureau has been working over the past four years to resurrect our unique local holiday, Goose Day. We are using a community sourcing approach in that we encourage anyone and everyone to host an event, hold a sale or create something fun to do over the Goose Day Celebration dates. We take this information and build a list of things to do all over our two-county area. We promote the list instead of relying on a single event to attract visitors. This year’s “I Believe in Goose Day” campaign helped to ramp up local awareness and we will continue to build on that in the future.

This will be the 21st year for the Festival of Ice that the Visitors Bureau produces in Downtown Lewistown. That event has seen many changes over the past few years as we continue to build it into something more than a beautiful display of ice sculptures. Two nights of live music, food and craft vendors, kids’ activities, hay wagon rides and more help to draw visitors from surrounding counties.

Part of the charm of the Juniata River Valley is the variety of small town fairs and festivals held all over Mifflin and Juniata Counties. The Visitor Bureau promotes them on our event calendars, and social media sites and will continue to do that with the goal of building on what’s already been started here.

PBC: Earlier this year, the Department of Community and Economic Development granted $50,000 towards improvements to Lewistown’s downtown. What improvements have been made and how has the visitor’s bureau worked with other organizations and businesses to help in this revitalization effort?

Landis: Downtown Lewistown has always been a draw for people looking for the Historical Society Library and the McCoy House Museum. Recently, we’ve had a new coffee shop and a deli open on Market Street and, along with the other established restaurants, they create a food destination for not only visitors but locals as well. The grant money will be used to continue the Downtown Lewistown street and sidewalk rehabilitation program and will be administered by our county planning and development office.

PBC: What are the biggest challenges of representing the tourism industry in two rural counties?

Landis: Our biggest challenge can be convincing residents that there are many unique experiences that would interest visitors coming to the Juniata River Valley. If we’re going to get travelers off the main highways to explore the “Country Americana” that surrounds us here, we need our locals to be aware of the opportunities. Hotel and restaurant staff, gas station attendants, sales clerks, etc. are critical to keeping and building a tourist trade in the Juniata River Valley.

PBC: What are your goals for the next year and how will they help tourism?

Landis: We will be developing a plan to add directional signs to sites like our covered bridges, swimming pools and other places that visitors would be interested in. Even though most people use GPS now, some spots in the country still don’t have coverage. Our board of directors is also discussing the possibility of a small grant program to help tourism sites improve their offerings and appearance. Both of these projects will be benefits to visitors by making the Juniata River Valley an easier place to navigate and a better place to be once you’ve arrived.

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