Small Business Spotlight: Extraordinary Chocolates by Extraordinary People
Based in Wellsboro, Pa., Highland Chocolates is a nonprofit candy company that provides vocational training and employment for up to 20 adults with disabilities and four full-time staff members. Together, they learn valuable job skills while handcrafting and packaging chocolates and interacting with visitors who stop in for a factory tour.
What is unique about your candy company?
Highland Chocolates is unique because it is a nonprofit candy company, and all of the employees who make and package the chocolates have disabilities. In the factory, we have up to nine people working per day on building their job skills making the sweets we sell. We continually work with our employees to grow their skillset so they can take what they’ve learned and apply it at another job in the community. And we fully encourage that they pursue other opportunities. While we are sad to see them go, we are always proud to see them move on with the training and knowledge we helped them gain.
The story of how Highland Chocolates came to be is also unique.
It began in 1994 when the Tioga County Department of Human Services was looking for job opportunities for locals who were unemployed — most of whom were people with disabilities. A man from the Highland area of Scotland came to Pennsylvania with his signature truffle recipe and created a chocolate company that paid homage to his roots — Highland Chocolates. The little operation that started in an apartment building became just the opportunity Tioga County was looking for.
In 2012, Partners In Progress, a nonprofit that provides day programs and training services for people with disabilities, acquired Highland Chocolates. We’re really excited to be a part of Partners In Progress, which started 20 years ago to help the community in the rural area and has since grown to serve 175 people in 15 different locations.
Where can people find your chocolates?
Visitors are always welcome at our factory, and we offer tours year-round to see our products being made and meet our employees. Our tours are one of the most enjoyable aspects of Highland Chocolates. People are surprised that there is a chocolate factory in town, and they leave feeling rewarded seeing how the program works and how enriching it is working with people with disabilities.
Our tours are also a great way to learn about new products we can add. Some of our newest products come from recommendations from our visitors, like sea salt caramel Oreos. One thing that always remains is our famous pretzel bark, as well as a variety of molded chocolates, sweet snack mixes, and fudge.
Of course, if you can’t make it to Wellsboro, our chocolates are sold across the United States.
What makes you Pennsylvania proud?
We use all Pennsylvania products in our sweets. All of our chocolate comes from companies in PA, and Herr’s Snacks in Nottingham generously donates all of the pretzels we use. Herr’s heard about Highland Chocolates and decided to help, along with the many other organizations they support — and we truly appreciate it.
A lot of local businesses come to us to have custom molds made with their logo for gifts. We were also approached by the Everett Railroad in Hollidaysburg about nine months ago to create 7,000 chocolate coins for the children who ride the Santa Express this holiday season. We are nearing completion of the coins, and we’re excited to drop them off.
We’ve received a tremendous amount of support from the community, county, and elected officials. Wellsboro is also the perfect place to be. It’s like a Hallmark movie town with a thriving arts district, a historic movie theater, and endless natural beauty with Pine Creek Gorge and Route 6. It attracts visitors from all over who have never heard about Highland Chocolates, and to us, that means a lot — because we want people to meet us and spread happiness with our chocolates.
The Small Business Spotlight is a monthly series posted on the second Saturday of the month which highlights businesses and their owners who are positively impacting their local community.
Amy Welch serves as the manager of Highland Chocolates and the marketing and communications director for Partners In Progress, who owns and operates the chocolate facility.