BEDFORD – Focusing on tourism and economic development in rural areas, the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a roundtable discussion in Bedford at the request of Sen. John Wozniak.

"I'm happy we could bring the policy committee to Bedford," Wozniak (D-Johnstown) said. "Our committee will take today's local input back to Harrisburg and to help amplify the viewpoints of local officials and business leaders."

Wozniak said that building a comprehensive strategy to strengthen tourism and fuel economic development is a worthy goal for any rural community.

Noting that more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians work in the leisure and hospitality sectors, Wozniak said that tourism remains a very important economic driver in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee, added, "The scenic region of Bedford County has a great reputation for its rural charm and attractiveness as a tourist destination. I hope to take the innovative ideas discussed today back to the legislature so we can help this region continue to grow and thrive."

General Manager of the Bedford Springs Resort Lee Bowden said tourism is evolving, and it is becoming more experience-based than it has been in the past. He said people still want golf and spa facilities, but they also want farm-to-table culinary experiences, archery lessons and hikes on unique trails.

Director of Bedford County Planning Commission Don Schwartz agreed that people are looking for a whole experience, and trails are a big business. Schwartz said recreational trails such as the Pike to Bike project are relatively low-impact on the community but are able to draw in tourists.

Melissa Jacobs, owner of the Jean Bonnet Tavern, said tourists from other areas of the state and the country bring fresh dollars to rural areas, and businesses are able to capitalize on that.

"Tourism dollars are more important in rural areas than urban areas because we have a smaller pool," Jacobs said. "We're able to stretch them more."

Boscola said early planning is crucial for the continued success of the state's rural communities because demographics are changing.

Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said he's disappointed that Governor Corbett's office doesn't seem to have a plan for community development.

"We need to make a decision," Costa said. "We can either manage the decline or make an investment to grow the community."