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Communities use BR&E to focus on keeping and creating local business and jobs. Research-based programs and online resources help the community move from ideas to actions that support businesses already existing in their vicinity.

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Michael Darger
Program Director
462 Coffey Hall
1420 Eckles Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108-6070
Phone: 612-625-6246
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Extension > Community > Business Retention & Expansion

Helping Minnesota communities retain and expand their businesses

Retaining and expanding existing businesses is a surer economic development bet than recruiting new ones from other towns. Extension helps communities understand local business needs and respond - so that businesses stay, grow, and become more committed to the community. Our BR&E Strategies program gets the broader community involved in comprehensive business retention and expansion planning.

We also offer here case studies, community stories, reports and sample surveys that will help you think about business retention and expansion for your community.

"Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) builds capacity. The program takes the existing resources of a community and employs them to create a strategic design to help local businesses... The consultants don't do the work for the community, they just help the community to accept the challenge, 'We're going to do this, and we're going to do it well.'"
Earl Netwal, BR&E consultant to the Faribault, MN project

During the past 25 years, Extension has helped more than 70 cities, counties, or regions show businesses they care. BR&E Strategies' proven community organizing strategies, effective interview guides, and expert analysis of local conditions will help your community get it done right.

Want help for your ongoing business retention and expansion projects? Our BR&E Tools provide access to research, survey questions, and coaching sessions that help you do it your way with a little bit of help along the way.

University of Minnesota Extension now cooperates with the Grow Minnesota! program of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to advance business retention and expansion efforts statewide. Professionals from Extension and Grow Minnesota! can team up on joint BR&E efforts in your community. Both Extension and Grow Minnesota! will work with businesses and communities to determine the BR&E program that best meets their needs.

The field of economic development and business retention constantly learns and shares. The University of Minnesota Extension is here to help. Our approach is to involve the broader community in addressing the needs and concerns of local businesses. Beyond creating productive local projects, our approach strengthens ties within the community, and among non-profit, government and business organizations and leaders.


Attention Economic Development and BR&E Practitioners,
Specialists & Researchers

Contribute to a special issue of Community Development
(Journal of the Community Development Society)

Call for Abstracts
Business Retention & Expansion

Special issue of Community Development
(Journal of the Community Development Society)

Guest Editors:
Michael Darger, University of Minnesota Extension
Alan Barefield, Mississippi State University
Brent Hales, University of Minnesota Extension

Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) has existed as a central activity and priority for economic development practitioners for more than a generation. A wide variety of public and private organizations in communities, regions and states/ provinces in North America and beyond have incorporated BRE programming into their community economic development programs. A 2009 national survey found that 62% of cities and counties were doing BRE surveys with their businesses and 82% were partnering with chambers of commerce or others on BRE (N=709)1. Business Retention and Expansion International (BREI) has existed as a BRE-specific association for over 20 years in order to promote best practices and build capacity through quality educational opportunities. The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) also offers BRE training and finds that "business retention programs have become the most popular economic development efforts of communities nation-wide". i There is an opportunity to explore the collective impact of BRE and share what has been learned about this important component of community economic development.

Despite its emergence as a pre-eminent concern for community development practitioners, relatively little has been published in recent literature. What innovation is happening in BRE visitation programs? How do other data gathering methods contribute to economic developers' understanding of the businesses and economics in their sphere of influence? What are the results at the community, regional and state/provincial levels? How does BRE intersect with economic development techniques and strategies?

Seeking to build on advances in community economic development strategies, we are soliciting abstracts for papers to be published in a special issue of Community Development in 2017. The intent of this special issue is to provide a collection of high quality articles on various aspects of using this approach to inform and induce economic development with a goal of helping readers to learn about innovative procedures and approaches in conducting a BRE process. While BRE might be regarded as relatively mature with regard to a developmental continuum, both scholars and practitioners can make significant contributions to the literature by sharing research and practices from case studies, process evaluations, larger scale studies, and analysis of benchmarked data time series.

Submission of topics and abstracts is open and topics of special interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Intersection between BRE and other economic development strategies: entrepreneurship, business recruitment, technology-intensive, creative economy, etc.
  • Public policy implications of BRE from local to state/provincial scale
  • Measuring BRE results: metrics and methods
  • Case studies of BRE results over time
  • Benchmarking BRE data for trends and program development.
  • Implications of face-to-face visitation vs. other primary data collection methods like focus groups, electronic surveying, mixed methods, and other techniques
  • Accomplishing relationship building with businesses
  • Quality data collection while using technology: considerations and tradeoffs
  • Innovations and evolution in data collection from secondary sources
  • Moving from BRE data analysis to systemic action
  • Building broad-based partnerships for BRE
  • The process of BRE in its various forms (volunteer visitor, continuous, electronic survey, etc.). What are the implications for urban, suburban, rural, regional, and state/provincial BRE programs
  • Using volunteer visitors vs. professional economic developers for BRE program implementation
  • BRE training and capacity building for economic development professionals, board members and volunteer participants.
  • Retaining baby boomer businesses in communities as the boomers transition to retirement

The abstracts should be written for both practitioners and academics and provide generalizable results that can contribute to the body of knowledge on Business Retention and Expansion rather than, for example, only reporting a case study. However local experiences can document the findings or test the results. The final accepted papers will be written in a professional style including literature review, documented outcomes and references. The emphasis should focus on the manner in which the BRE effort was applied, essential ingredients in success, what has been learned from the process, and outcomes and impacts achieved.

Those interested in contributing to this special issue, please send an abstract, not longer than 500 words, outlining the topics addressed, organization and/or methodologies used, and how the paper will contribute to the BRE topic to: Michael Darger ( by January 29, 2016.

When submitting, include BUSINESS RETENTION AND EXPANSION ABSTRACT in the memo subject line. Authors will be notified by March 1, 2016 regarding invitations to prepare a full paper.

Final paper submission will be expected by July 15, 2016 using standard Community Development format requirements. Papers will be submitted through the usual refereeing process.

It is expected that an economic development topic will be offered in the 2016 Community Development Society (CDS) International Association of Community Development (IACD) conference and authors are encouraged to submit their paper to the conference call for presentations as well. However, conference submission is not required. An invitation to prepare a full paper for the Journal does not imply invitation to a presentation opportunity at the conference, nor vice versa. However, both the Journal and the CDS IACD conference are excellent opportunities to advance knowledge on BRE .

[1] Warner, Mildred and Zheng, Lingwen (2011). Economic Development Strategies for Recessionary Times: Survey Results from 2009. ICMA Municipal Year Book 2011 (Washington, D.C.: ICMA, 2011), 33-42.

[i] Retrieved from

BR&E Strategies Program

The BR&E Strategies Program makes local businesses more competitive by evaluating and addressing some of their key needs and concerns. more

Research & Development

Extension has conducted research about its programs and approach since the beginning. Read evaluations and reports from through the years. more

Sample Reports & Surveys

See a selection of summary reports & surveys created directly from programs. more

BR&E Tools

Our BR&E Tools offer a collection of online resources to help support business retention and expansion. more

BR&E Course

University of Minnesota Extension has offered business retention and expansion courses since 1996. You can now take an all-online offering (over 8 weeks) or attend an in-person workshop (3 days elapsed time). more

Case Studies

Read and view stories of successful BR&E case studies.

Workshop & Research Services

Extension has conducted research about its programs and approach since the beginning. Read evaluations and reports from through the years. more

BR&E Program Awards & Distinctions

Recognition received for excellence in BR&E through the years. more

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