Tourism can be a major economic driver for many rural communities. In New Hampshire the Women’s Rural Entrepreneur Network (WREN) is promoting Bethlehem as a tourist destination through a travel, storytelling CD and a print brochure relaying the history of this fascinating town. Artists are engaged through WREN’s art gallery, retail store (Ovation), on-line store (www.theshopatwren.com) and festivals. WREN also hosts a street banner competition to encourage artists to create banners that promote and beautify Bethlehem. A new marketplace facility is in the planning stages for WREN, and it will include a kitchen incubator to support food entrepreneurs.
WREN is an entrepreneurship support organization that uses community building as a pathway to developing individual entrepreneurs (microenterprises) and to revitalizing a community. It provides learning and earning opportunities for its 600 members, 375 affiliated businesses, and the surrounding region. Its mission is to support better lives and livelihoods by providing the expertise, resources, connections, access to markets, capital, and technology to encourage greater prosperity.
WREN is receiving support for its work through the Sustainable Tourism Learning Cluster of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO). AEO’s Rural Microenterprise Learning Clusters Project is a two-year initiative (2003-2005) supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Learning clusters are groups of people from different backgrounds – but usually with similar interests – who come together to share experiences and resource information and to identify successful practices.
WREN has found that belonging to an intense network of other practitioners allows them to access concrete examples and new ideas that are immediately applicable. “Participating in this national Learning Cluster has given us the language, tools, and best practices to grow our capacity in sustainable tourism work,” says Natalie Woodroofe, executive director of WREN.
For more information about AEO and the Rural Microenterprise Learning Clusters please see www.microenterpriseworks.org. For information about WREN visit www.wrencommunity.org or www.theshopatwren.com.