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Research & Program Development

Research on BR&E Strategies Programs

Community BR&Es are benefitting from a new evaluation technique—Ripple Effect Mapping (REM). REM efficiently captures a community's project outcomes and impacts via community-based focus group discussions. See 2014 article in Journal of Extension. Learn more about ripple effect mapping.

A number of major research projects have been completed on the BR&E Visitation Programs. (Note: Minnesota's BR&E Visitation Program is known as the BR&E Strategies Program.) The results of each are reviewed, summarizing the data collection methods and the major findings.

View the BR&E process and timeline.

Research and program development (in progress)

Benchmarking of Survey Data

University of Minnesota Extension has offered a comprehensive Business Retention and Expansion Strategies (BR&E) program since 1990. During this time, the program has been implemented in 70+ communities. Since the University retains the survey results collected, the program has a significant amount of reliable and valuable data. Currently, our research team is engaged in a data benchmarking project. The goal of the project is to benefit businesses and communities by providing context for their current situation. While private BR&E consultants have collected similar data, our team is unaware of publicly available bench marked data.

The analysis offers insights into Minnesota businesses over time. For example, surveyed businesses generally rate fire protection, police protection, and emergency medical services highly. Meanwhile, economic development authorities, zoning, and Chambers of Commerce often receive much lower scores. The goal of the analysis is two-fold. One, to provide a benchmark for communities engaged in the program to measure themselves by and two, to inform public discussion of business issues in Minnesota.

The BR&E team presented the results at the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals (NACDEP) meetings in May of 2012. It intends to publish excerpts of the benchmarked data here.

Research articles summaries (2000s)

Program Evaluation (2006-2007)

Linda Bosma, Ph.D, community organizing expert, performed a qualitative program evaluation with nine selected participating Minnesota communities in the BR&E Strategies Program. These communities were selected because they had not previously reported any noteworthy successes. Extension program staff are committed to helping change happen in local communities. Therefore, Bosma was hired to explore the reasons for the lack of apparent action in the nine BR&E communities. Bosma conducted key informant interviews with two people per community, for a total of 18 interviews. Her complete analysis was provided to the program team in a comprehensive report.

Major A-Ha's from Bosma Study
(as synthesized by Michael Darger, March 5, 2012)

  1. The BR&E program design and materials were tilted heavily to the research/discovery/needs assessment stage, not to the implementation stage. When we shared this with the Extension educators in Minnesota who deliver BR&E and other Community Economics programs with communities they resonated with this theme and with the need to have more project implementation curricula as well as resources for the back end. Ryan Pesch uses this plumbing analogy, you hire a plumber to come out for a clogged sink. He comes out and looks at the sink, tears the thing apart, and then says "Yep, you got a clogged sink drain" that's not what you want. Neither does a community want just the diagnosis; they want help getting things fixed.

    Action taken. A major redesign of the program process was developed by Darger and Claudia Cody. See the 3-step Flow Chart here (link it). The Implement Step became graphically elevated as the last and most important step in the program. This new graphic was embedded in a redesigned educational video (total project cost ~$30,000). Video available (link to video page). Educators and BR&E consultants now emphasize this as the reason to participate in the program as equal to if not more important than the Research or Prioritize Steps (Steps 1 and 2)
  2. Bosma discovered that nearly half of the interviewees (eight people in six communities) claimed some level of success in implementing their project plans. On the other hand, it was clear that some communities did not want to do project implementation. For instance, half of the interviewees (nine) described BR&E only as a survey when asked to describe it. They just wanted to do a survey and get the information. That was enough for them.

    Action taken. Again, this insight contributed to the aforementioned program process redesign. Further, BR&E program staff now emphasize that the Implement step is really the main reason for doing the BR&E Strategies. The Research and Prioritize steps really only make sense if the community is prepared to tackle Implement step as the ultimate objective. Program staff continues to screen applicants to the program to ensure that they orient a complete leadership team, recruit a broad-based task force and adopt a plan of work that gears them for success over all three phases.
  3. Project selection issues:
    • Potential project ideas (i.e. the ideas that are arrayed in the research report) are generated by the participants in the campus research review meeting and the report writers. Some additional vetting of these ideas would be helpful.

      Action taken. Program staff has always strived to analyze business visit data with many folks involved at a "research review meeting." Potential project ideas are suggested by these individuals and those that fit the data are compiled into the BR&E research report that goes to the community for their action planning. The report writer strives to filter projects for pertinence to the data and the community's situation so that the risk of non-plausible ideas is mitigated. All of this process happened for the nine communities in this evaluation study. What's different now is the program staff is careful to consider the overall portfolio of categories of project ideas (i.e. "strategies") and the appropriate ideas within those categories. However, no feasibility analysis of potential project ideas is done before going to the community.
    • Priority projects (i.e. the ideas selected by the community for implementation and described in the summary report) need to be "winnable/attainable/feasible" (pick the word that works for you) and they need to become owned by the community.

      Action taken. Ultimately, it is up to the community to create priority projects that they can implement. However, the BR&E program staff now coach the community in a couple ways to increase the prospects for project success. First, the aforementioned new emphasis on Implement Step as being the ultimate reason to engage in this approach to BR&E. Second, after priority project selection, the program staff is spending more time facilitating project planning and transition to action than in the past.
  4. Community organizing is something that is embedded in the Community Leaders BR&E methodology (Linda Bosma is an expert on community organizing and provides an overview chapter in her report).

    Action taken. No action yet. However, separately, the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality has adopted a Theory of Change that emphasizes deeper engagement with geographic communities.

BR&E Case Studies (2006)

2001 study of three rural communities
The communities targeted general business, tourism and farms, respectively, with impressive results.
Paying Attention to the Businesses in Your Backyard (PDF)
Case Studies of Three Rural Community Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Programs

Research articles summaries (1990s)

Making Connections through BR&E

This case study looked at a number of social capital impacts of the BR&E program(McLaughlin, 1987; McLaughlin, 1990). The author used a qualitative research approach to look at the reasons local leaders participated and the organizational and sociological changes in the local group. The author spent fourteen days in the community and interviewed thirty participants in an Ohio BR&E program, observed six meetings of BR&E program participants, and observed three business visits by program participants. The major finding was that the BR&E Task Force "red flag" review process used in this project changed the norms of accountability among local development leaders. The process helped Task Force members to: identify with each other; develop more realistic expectations regarding the capabilities of other organizations; avoid embarrassing one another about past mistakes while at the same time implying that avoidable future mistakes in working with local firms would prove embarrassing. (McLaughlin. pp. 176-177. The Retention and Expansion of Existing Business Theory and Practice in Business. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990.)

Measuring the Success of BR&E Visitation Programs

The second study of the BR&E visitation program included communities in six states (Ohio, Nebraska, Indiana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). This study surveyed one person (the volunteer coordinator) in 81 local BR&E Visitation programs and asked their perceptions of the program benefits and characteristics of each program . The results of this research were reported in three journal articles (Loveridge, Smith, and Morse, 1991; Smith, Morse, and Lobao, 1992; Loveridge and Smith, 1992).

What Does It Take to Run a BR&E Visitation Program?: The first article from this project (Loveridge, Smith, and Morse, 1991) provided a picture of the resources required to do a local BR&E Visitation Program. The article examined the time requirements for the coordinator (averaged 89 hours per program), the composition of the volunteers and task force, the methods used to reach a high percentage of firms, the methods used to train volunteers, the types of information requested, the type of local problems found, and the methods used to respond to problems.

Coordinator Perceptions of Success in BR&E Visitation Programs: The second article from this project reported on various measures of success in the BR&E Visitation Program (Smith, Morse, and Labao, 1992). Eight variables were used to measure the immediate benefits of the BR&E Visitation Programs. The first five reflect the coordinator's perceptions of the degree to which the local BR&E Visitation Program objectives were achieved. On a ten point scale, with a score of 10 being most beneficial, the objectives rated as follows:

  1. demonstration to local firms that the community had a pro-business attitude (mean score of 9.0),
  2. providing data for economic development planning (7.8),
  3. assisted firms in solving local problems (7.1), gave early warning of plant closures (5.4), and
  4. helped firms use state development programs (4.8).

In addition, three additional variables were used to reflect the overall ratings by coordinators. These were as follows:

  1. overall rating of how worthwhile the program was, considering both costs and benefits (mean of 7.9 from a 10 point scale),
  2. willingness to recommend the program to their peers in other communities (89% were willing, with 9% maybe, and 1% no), and
  3. coordinator's perception of firm's willingness to recommend the program to other firms (78% ).

These findings indicated that users found the program very useful. However, they rated the program relatively low on the objective of helping firms use state development programs. This resulted in a major change in the organization of the program, which now includes a separate "Red Flag" Coordinator to organize this portion of the program (Morse, 1996, section 6).

Factors Influencing Success in BR&E Visitation Programs: The third article used the same data base as the one immediately preceding this (Loveridge and Smith, 1992). However, in this case, the research used factor analysis to combine the eight separate quantitative measures outlined above into a single measure of "success" and then examined factors that contributed to better programs. Factors which were found to lead to greater success were:

  1. focusing the program on manufacturing firms;
  2. developing written recommendations of priority projects;
  3. greater investments of time by the coordinators;
  4. using volunteers to set the final priorities, visit firms, and help in developing the final report.

Implementation of Long-Term BR&E Projects

The third major study of BR&E visitation programs included the states of Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska (Morse, and Ha, 1995; Allanach, 1995). This project also surveyed local coordinators but the focus shifted to the implementation of the projects outlined in the written reports. Each coordinator was asked to specify the degree of implementation for specific projects. Strategic planning hypotheses were tested using regression analysis.

Factors Influencing Degree of Implementation: In this staff paper, Morse and Ha test the hypotheses that strategic planning methods influence the degree of implementation. A key finding is that the strategic plans adopted by local programs have been substantially or completely implemented about 30% of the time and local leaders are actively pursuing the implementation on another 35% of the projects. The authors found that "two-thirds of the programs conform well to the principles of strategic planning up to the point that implementation starts, then only a small portion of the programs conform." (Morse and Ha, 1995, p. 8). They found that the benefits of BR&E plan implementation were positively correlated with the following:

  1. the number of paid development professionals working on BR&E,
  2. the written report specifies who has responsibility for implementing specific plans,
  3. the years since the plan was developed,
  4. the number of different plans included,
  5. the local BR&E program followed strategic planning methods,
  6. the funding for BR&E,
  7. the hours spent by the coordinator,
  8. and the time spent by the Task Force on implementation meetings.

Market for BR&E Visitation Programs

Allanach's M.S. thesis (1995) explored the factors which might predict whether or not a community would participate in a BR&E Visitation Program. He used logit analysis to predict whether or not a community would be in the program and found that communities were more likely to participate if:

  1. they have higher unemployment,
  2. had larger per capita incomes,
  3. relied more on manufacturing jobs,
  4. and had a more educated population.

Allanach also attempted to compare communities with BR&E Visitation Programs with those that didn't have these programs. At the community levels, he found no significant differences between those with and without the program for changes in per capita income or unemployment rates (p. 91). Service employment grew slightly more rapidly in those with the program than those without. (p.91). While Allanach concluded that these results were largely "spurious and inconclusive" (p. 92), this lack of results might simply be due to the level of aggregation.


Bibliography of Research on BR&E Visitation Programs

Allanach, Christopher Bruce. "The Market for and Impacts of Business Retention and Expansion." Master's Thesis, Dept. Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 1995.

Cothran, Hank. Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) Programs series (online info sheets) at Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2009.

Darger, Michael. "Capturing the Ripples from Community-Driven Business Retention and Expansion Programs." Journal of Extension [on-line], 52(2), 2014. Available at:

Darger, Michael. "Paying Attention to the Businesses in Your Backyard - Case Studies of Three Rural Community Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Programs." Paper presented to the Joint International Summit on Community and Rural Development, July 22, 2001, Duluth, Minnesota.

Davis, Greg. "The Value in Evaluating and Communicating Program Impact: The Ohio BR&E Program." Journal of Extension [on-line], 50(3), 2012. Available at:

Green, Gary P. "Social Capital and Entrepreneurship: Bridging the Family & Community." Paper presented at the Cornell University Conference on the Entrepreneurial Family — Building Bridges, March 17-19, 1996, New York City, New York.

Ha, Inhyuck and George Morse. "How Successful Are BR&E Implementation Efforts? A Four -State Example." Staff Paper Series, P95-13, Dept. of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, November 1995.

Ilvento, Tom and Scott Loveridge. "Factors Influencing Participation in BR&E Programs: A Study of Local Coordinators in Six States." Food and Resource Research Report, University of Delaware, 2000.

Loveridge, Scott and Thomas R. Smith. "Factors Related to Success In Business Retention and Expansion Programs," Journal of the Community Development Society, 23(2): 66-78, 1992.

Loveridge, Scott, Thomas R. Smith, and George W. Morse. "What Does It Take to Run a Local Business Retention and Expansion Program? A Six State Survey." Economic Development Review, pp. 12-15, Winter, 1991.

Loveridge, Scott, Thomas R. Smith, and George W. Morse. "Volunteer Visitor Business Retention and Expansion Programs," in Rural Development Strategies, David W. Sears and J. Norman Reid (editors) Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1995.

McLaughlin, Robert T. "Making Connections in the Heartland: An Educator's Case Study of a Local Business Retention and Expansion Program," PhD Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1987.

McLaughlin, Robert T. "Making Connections through R&E: An Educator's Case Study." in The Retention and Expansion of Existing Businesses. George Morse (editor), Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1990 (Note: The Ohio program, which was started by George Morse and is almost identical to the Minnesota one, is called "R&E.")

Morse, George (Editor). The Retention and Expansion of Existing Businesses. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1990.

Morse, George and Inhyuck Ha. "How Successful are Business Retention and Expansion Implementation Efforts?" Economic Development Review, 15(1), pp. 8-13, Spring, 1997.

Smith, Thomas R., George W. Morse, and Linda M.Lobao. "Measuring Impacts of Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Programs." Journal of the Community Development Society. 23(1), 1992.


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