Grant project to create online tool to assist in rural economic development
posted on May 30, 2017 8:46am
Pedestrian walking in downtown Dexter, a rural community in Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Municipal League.
COLLEGE STATION – An online modeling tool to assist with identifying potential economic development opportunities in rural communities will be developed as part of a collaborative effort led by Texas A&M AgriLife, Iowa State University and Michigan State University.
By analyzing federal employment and payroll statistics or “big data” the research team will more accurately identify detailed opportunities and thresholds of potential business creation in rural communities, said Dr. Craig Carpenter, the principal investigator on the project, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist in College Station.
“We are looking at socioeconomic, geographic and industrial factors that influence business success within a region,” Carpenter said. “Anyone will be able to pull up a national map of counties that will have information to assist in determining which industries are threatened or have a chance to expand within their county.”
Carpenter is joined by Dr. Rebekka Dudensing, AgriLife Extension economist in College Station; Dr. Linda Niehm, professor in the department of apparel, events and hospitality management, Iowa State University; and Dr. Scott Loveridge, agricultural economist, Michigan State University.
The project is funded by one of 47 grants totaling $17.5 million recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The funding is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
“A number of factors are involved in achieving economic success in rural communities,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “These NIFA investments will help us understand the social and behavioral factors that inform decision-making in agriculture, which can help rural communities thrive.”
Carpenter said the tool will be developed using a set of algorithms and by drawing information from the Texas Federal Statistical Research Data Center and other sources of data including other restricted-access datasets.
“The first year of the project, we will be interviewing community leaders to see what’s important to their local economy,” Carpenter said. “We will also be interviewing Extension specialists, entrepreneurs and others as part of this data-gathering effort.
“We are also looking at information that is not publicly available to develop these opportunity maps.”
The project objectives are to evaluate demand and supply thresholds for various industries in the U.S.; evaluate local geographic, socioeconomic and industrial; create and implement an Extension rural community-opportunity matching program to identify potentially successful opportunities in pilot communities in Texas, Michigan and Iowa, then extend the program nationally, potentially through eXtension, the national collaborative program for Extension professionals.
The tool will assist in economic development by identifying which industries are under-represented in a county. For example, it would determine if a certain community could support another grocery store or a barbershop? If not, why?
Carpenter said the project will use data sets previously unexplored in economic development activity.
“This gives individuals access to results from big data,” Carpenter said. “More and more we are working with big data and trying find out how to better leverage this access into digestible output while still protecting the individual business from which the data derives. This project is the first to use these large data sets to investigate which businesses are in a particular community. We hope to publish numerous industry-specific research journal articles from these studies and help our rural communities as a result.”