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CAEDC at a Crossroads: Dual mission structure helped CAEDC to cope through pandemic

From the CAEDC at a Crossroads: Cumberland County's economic development and tourism agency plans forward through a pandemic series
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CAEDC

Carlisle Area Economic Development Corp. members, from left, Kristen Rowe, director of destination marketing; talks with Aaron Jumper, public relations manager; Lauren Hostetter, social media manager and Stacey Cornman, content marketing manager, during a meeting Tuesday.

“The uniqueness of our organization really helped us,” Public Relations Manager Aaron Jumper said recently. “There are very few organizations in the state that do both tourism and economic development.”

The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners founded CAEDC in 2005 as an agency tasked with leveraging local assets to drive growth, create jobs and improve the quality of life.

CAEDC staff offer financing options and start-up tips to entrepreneurs looking to open a business. The agency also provides opportunities for established businesses to expand or redevelop through low-interest loans, incentive programs, grants and technical assistance.

The corporation was structured so that promotion services geared toward tourism and economic development work off of each other to highlight the agency as a resource for businesses, nonprofits, local municipalities and residents in Cumberland County.

That resource proved to be key during the pandemic when it started in 2020.

“We played a critical role in the recovery,” Director of Destination Marketing Kristen Rowe said. “Our group had to step up and step in to make sure the [COVID relief] programs were marketed to all our businesses that needed help during the recovery. CAEDC was an important and necessary filter-through organization for a lot of businesses hit hard by the pandemic.”

The health crisis emphasized the need for CAEDC staff to be more purposeful in their interactions with local business owners, Jumper said. “We had direct contact with businesses that we didn’t have contact with in a while. We were updating information on a much more frequent basis because we wanted to be a hub for people. We wanted to provide information to our partners — strategies at the beginning of COVID and something we could carryover as we emerge from it and move towards normalcy.”

CAEDC did not have to cut or furlough employees, Rowe said. “A lot of visitor bureaus across the state had to let go their whole team or really reduce staff. We are economic development and tourism so we were able to use the team in different ways.”

One result was weekly communications that briefed business owners on the most up-to-date information on COVID relief programs. “We had Zoom meetings with restaurants and shops on how can we support you as an organization,” Jumper said.

Most economic development agencies don’t have marketing and public relations specialists on staff, Rowe said. “Instead of having that team in-house, they have to contract or consult out.”

The result has been a synergy of expertise where staff in tourism and economic development routinely cross-promote – sustaining both sides of the operation, interim Executive Administrator Gary Scicchitano said.

“We have a really good mix of people right now,” Jumper said. “We have new talent that can bring new ideas to our organization. We have historical knowledge.”

Joseph Cress is a reporter for The Sentinel covering education and history. You can reach him at jcress@cumberlink.com or by calling 717-218-0022.

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