Happy Valley positioned to benefit from resurgence of corporate retreats


By Holly Riddle

Almost 13% of full-time employees work entirely remotely, while 28% work on a hybrid schedule, alternating between working remotely and in their office. It’s not unusual to collaborate with co-workers who live across the country or around the world. In a 2023 survey by Buffer, 98% of respondents said they want to work from home at least some of the time.

As companies embrace the new work, they’re also looking for ways to bring employees together for meaningful, face-to-face interactions. Enter the corporate retreat. The market for corporate events is growing and is expected to reach $510.9 billion by 2030.

Savvy Happy Valley venues and vendors who support them recognize how the area is well-positioned to draw corporate groups, especially those led by Penn State alumni, for retreats, client symposiums and other events.

A central place to get away

The HomeWaters Club in Spruce Creek is technically a private fly-fishing club, but because many of the club’s members are C-level executives or business owners, according to Mike Harpster, director of membership and business development, the club was able to make a natural and easy transition into a corporate retreat and meeting space.

“HomeWaters is a great place to bring a board to get away… The lodging’s nice. The food’s good. There are fun activities to enjoy in their off time, whether that be shooting sporting clays or spending a couple of hours on the stream with a guide, fishing,” Harpster said.

HomeWaters is also a unique alternative to more typical corporate trips, like taking clients to a football game or for a game of golf.

The work environment has changed post-pandemic [so] we see a lot of remote and hybrid teams. Often, when people are coming to us at Shavers Creek, it's because they're prioritizing coming together, face-to-face.

Harpster explained, “When bringing clients or employees to HomeWaters, you’re getting away with them in a location where you actually are away, not with a big crowd of people and not just for four hours on a golf course where you don't have a lot of time to talk. You have downtime over dinner if you’re staying overnight, and at the campfire afterward. Those kinds of things give you quality time in a unique setting.”

HomeWaters’ biggest draw is its access to private fly fishing, which draws the club’s more than 200 members from 28 different states, who also appreciate its central and easy-to-reach location.

“We’re centrally located in the Mid-Atlantic Corridor. For people coming from western or eastern Pennsylvania or D.C. or New York — even Chicago and Boston — it’s centrally located and easy to get to, even though, when you’re here, you’re away from it all,” said Harpster.

A side of adventure

Josh Boyd, executive director at Krislund Camp in Madisonburg, also touts the facility’s central location, which offers year-round retreats with a side of adventure.

“Many of our groups are looking for a comfortable place to stay that also provides other opportunities — things like meeting spaces, team-building and recreation like [a] high ropes course, zipline, rock wall and giant swing,” said Boyd.

There’s a sense of belonging and purpose that they shared. They enjoyed the permission to unplug in a different way for the day, and be present with their colleagues.

For groups coming from out of the area, Krislund’s location in Happy Valley is a big draw. “There are many different opportunities across the county that cater to a diverse group of guests. There’s something to do for everyone,” he said.

Day-long retreats with a view

The Mt. Nittany Overlook Event Center doesn’t offer overnight accommodations, but it has plenty of meeting space and something not every space can offer: panoramic views from atop the Mt. Nittany ridge.

“The view is beautiful and peaceful and an inspiring backdrop for relaxed and creative thinking. All of the event space tables and chairs and windows are designed to maximize this feeling and each floor has decks to go outside and enjoy the fresh air coming up the mountain and the sounds of wild hawks floating nearby or the cattle from the field below,” said Owner Kit Henshaw.

Creating connections

Some of the corporate retreat opportunities in Happy Valley take advantage of both university resources and Happy Valley’s natural assets. A prime example is Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, a field laboratory and community resource owned by Penn State and yet seemingly worlds away from the bustling University Park campus (even though it’s less than a half-hour drive).

Stacey Budd, team development program coordinator, helps organizations and businesses plan team building and networking events at the center, with each event personalized to meet unique goals through experiential, playful, nature-set activities.

We're in the business of sharing joy.

“The work environment has changed post-pandemic [so] we see a lot of remote and hybrid teams. Often, when people are coming to us at Shavers Creek, it's because they're prioritizing coming together, face-to-face,” she explained. “Because of that, we always start with [helping teams create] a foundation of connection, because connection is the foundation to teamwork. We create opportunities for teams to get to know each other a little bit better, beyond the screens that we often engage over.”

She added, “Shaver's Creek is an experience in of itself, especially if people haven't been here before. It's a great way to step away from the office.”

Often, she described, teams leave the center after a day of team building feeling more connected to their colleagues. “There’s a sense of belonging and purpose that they shared. They enjoyed the permission to unplug in a different way for the day, and be present with their colleagues.”

Agritourism meets corporate travel

Happy Valley’s outdoor exploration opportunities aren’t limited to forests and streams. Agriculture has long been a staple industry in the region and, more recently, agritourism has garnered attention as a potential draw to not just leisure travelers, but business travelers as well, thanks to venues that cater to corporate events.

At Nittany Meadow Farm, for example, organizations and businesses can participate in goat yoga classes or enjoy a meet-and-great with the resident herd of dairy goats. Meeting space is also available right next to the barn, so groups can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the farm. For groups who can’t make it there, the farm takes its Goats2Go bus on the road, allowing groups to visit the goats in their location.

The benefits of these types of experiences are bountiful, as Tara Immel, owner, explained. She noted that groups wanting a team-building experience that provides “joy, fun, relaxation, stress-relief, bonding, mental breaks, inspiration, creativity, memories and to do something they've never done before” all find what they’re looking for.

She said, “We're in the business of sharing joy. We're the only farm in Centre County offering these type of goat experiences and we're happy to share our goats, who, in turn, make people very happy. People get to engage with animals on a working farm in a fun way, which is guaranteed to bring lots of laughter and enjoyment. Adults don't often get the chance to just relax and immerse themselves in the experience, and with the goats, they can.”

Do you offer or have you experienced a unique business retreat experience in Happy Valley? Let us know in the comments or email jodie@affinityconnection.com.


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