EDA University Center

Since 2016, the EDA University Center has been a joint effort by the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and the Division of Extension to increase the availability of Wisconsin-applicable data and research to the state’s municipal, county, and tribal governments, along with the economic development community. The EDA University Center works in four main areas.

The EDA University Center received a CARES Act Economic Recovery grant and has been focusing its research and outreach efforts on helping communities recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of our major activities include:

Expanded Capacity to Meet COVID-19 Research & Data Needs: Professors Gail Huycke and Christopher Stark joined the EDA University Center team to help deepen applied research related to expanding broadband access. Because of her association with the EDA-UC and the CARES Act grant, Professor Huycke was asked to serve on Governor Ever’s Task Force on Broadband. Professor Chris Stark has been working on access in Wisconsin’s communities.

Dr. Tessa Conroy received additional funding through the CARES Act to dedicate a greater amount of time to economic recovery, leading the effort to complete Broadband and the Wisconsin Economy, a companion policy brief Strategies and Policy Options for Broadband Access Across Wisconsin, and a series of factsheets.

Economic Impact Survey – Wisconsin Residents: From September through late October (2020), we fielded the first wave of a survey of a random sample of Wisconsin residents to better understand the pandemic’s effect on individual household finances and resiliency, along with the effect of sudden COVID-19 related changes on the household need for broadband, childcare, and other necessary support for full participation in the economy.

Economic Impact Survey – Municipalities & Economic Development Organizations: The impact of COVID-19 on municipalities has been considerable. Through the CARES Act, the EDA University Center is preparing to field a survey of municipalities and economic development organizations.

Homegrown: Entrepreneurship in Your Community: Research indicates entrepreneurial networks are weak in many parts of rural America. It is expected that already weak entrepreneurial supports will be further eroded by COVID-19. In response, the EDA University Center is offering a multi-day, research-based curriculum designed by the EDA University Center’s lead researcher, Dr. Tessa Conroy, in partnership with Dr. Sara Low at the University of Missouri. Targeted at local stakeholders, the program aids participant communities in creating a supportive network in rural areas so that when entrepreneurs are considering starting a business, they receive support from community institutions and leaders.

Business Development Technical Assistance: Through the CARES Act, Extension is accelerating its efforts to provide direct help to small entrepreneurs, earliest stage entrepreneurs, solo entrepreneurs, and smaller agricultural operators. GrowthWheel business counseling will be offered by ten certified Division of Extension educators.

QuickStart Social Media Marketing: The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of social media sites, such as Facebook, in helping small businesses maintain and serve their customers. The EDA University Center partnered with 3Rhino Media, a nationally recognized social consultant, to provide a three-course series to small businesses. In total, 41 businesses registered for the first wave of QuickStart Social Media Marketing courses in November 2020, and there plans to offer the courses periodically throughout the COVID-19 economic recovery period.

WIndicators: The EDA University Center publishes a frequent, short-form series called WIndicators that looks at data surrounding a range of issues from business expansion to the role of foreign exports in the state’s economy to childcare as an economic development strategy and the role of immigration in entrepreneurship.

Wisconsin Economy Series: The Wisconsin Economy Series is a joint effort of the EDA University Center and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.  This series is an in-depth look at critical issues in Wisconsin, including broadband, manufacturing, sources of job growth, and effects of research and development investment in the state.

Economic Reports: Our Economic Reports address episodic issues in the economy and detail methods for community-based economic development research. For example, Slow Churn: Declining Dynamism in America’s Dairyland discusses the birth and death rates for Wisconsin business startups and the implication for the state economy. A Trade Area Analysis of Wisconsin Retail and Service Markets provides instruction on how to use publicly available data to assess the local retail market.

Badger Economy Survey: The Badger Economy Survey is a biennial survey of Wisconsin and its neighboring Great Lakes states. The survey explores attitudes toward a rotating number of economic development issues faced by states in the Upper Midwest, along with the experiences of individuals as they encounter issues related to child care, student loans, job searches, and other common events that impact regional residents.

The Center holds major meetings annually that bring together stakeholders in each region to examine research on issues they have identified as critical to economic development.  Meetings are held as in-services, summits, or forums, depending on the preference of the economic development partners. Attendance ranges between 60 and 300 individuals, drawn from local, state, and national elected leaders, economic development professionals, government agencies, and business leaders.

The EDA University Center researchers are frequently called on to directly assist communities or economic development partners. For example, Kristin Runge recently assisted the Village of Waunakee in conducting a year-long assessment and community engagement on the issue of affordable housing. Tessa Conroy is involved in a project supporting entrepreneurs of color in the Fox Valley region of the state through research, developing a co-working space, and identifying grant opportunities. Matt Kures has been working with several partners to identify and understand the implications of commuting and stretch commuting patterns in their regions. Steve Deller has been leading a working group to identify community-based approaches to addressing the lack of affordable housing across the State of Wisconsin.

Recent Publications

Are We in the 4th Wave of Economic Development?

How states, as well as communities, have approached economic growth and development policy has varied over time, going through various stages or waves. The idea that we have gone through three such stages or waves has been widely discussed and studied by both academics and practitioners. In this address, I lay out a series of arguments that we have entered a fourth stage or wave in how communities approach economic growth and development. Specifically, communities are refocusing their attention less so on promoting business development and more on making their community attractive to people. Sometimes referred to as “place-making,” the idea is that if we make the community as attractive to people as possible, people will want to live in the community and create business opportunities. This shift from focusing on people rather than businesses is fundamental to how communities think about economic growth and development.

Where are Wisconsin’s Workers?

Wisconsin had an estimated 230,000 job openings in July 2021, which was by far the highest number in the last two decades. More recent figures suggest somewhat of a decrease from this peak, but the preliminary estimate of 210,000 openings in October 2021 remains well over the monthly average of 154,000 openings found in 2019. While it may be tempting to attribute the large number of job openings to factors stemming from the emergence of COVID-19, such as the availability of enhanced unemployment benefits, many employers expressed challenges with finding employees prior to the start of the pandemic. In fact, the number of Wisconsin job openings has been steadily increasing since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Consequently, we must consider a breadth of factors, both related and unrelated to the pandemic, to better understand labor availability.

Opportunity, Necessity, and No One in the Middle: A Closer Look at Small, Rural, and Female-Led Entrepreneurship in the United States

Female entrepreneurs in rural America are rarely studied, despite local economic context likely shaping their (self-) employment choices. Development literature suggests entrepreneurship is most prevalent at the lowest and highest income levels, creating a U-shaped relationship between economic development measured with per capita income on the x-axis and the entrepreneurship rate (startups) on the y-axis. At the county level in the United States, we find that female-led startup rates vary with per capita income in the predicted U-shape. Results provide support for place-based entrepreneurship policy and highlight challenges women face while trying to contribute to the rural economy.

Effect of Farm Structure on Rural Community Well-Being

The current crisis in US agriculture has seen a growing number of farm bankruptcies. The result has been a “hollowing out” of the middle in the distribution of farm size, with growth in the number of both very large and small farms. A growing number of farms are operated by part-time farmers whose primary occupation is no longer farming. What are some implications of these changes for the well-being of rural communities? Using U.S. non-metropolitan (rural) county level data, we explore how the changing nature of farming has affected community well-being as understood through seven diverse measures. In general, we find conflicting evidence on the impact of farm structure on community well-being. In the end our results suggest that the logical conclusion of what has become known as the Goldschmidt hypothesis line of thinking that the movement to fewer and larger farms will necessarily harm the well-being of the larger community is not supported by the data.

Rural Broadband Speeds and Business Startup Rates

Using 2014 U.S. nonmetropolitan county-level data, we explore the relationship between broadband speeds and business startup rates. Rural development policy discussions have presumed that access to broadband has become a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for economic growth and development. The relationship between broadband access on business startups, which are vital to local economic vibrancy, may be key to understanding the link between broadband and growth. In this study, we explore how qualitative features of broadband influence startup rates across different types of industries. To refine our insights into these relationships, we look at broadband by speed (both download and upload coverage across four speed categories). We also consider the importance of mobile broadband availability, which is often ignored in empirical studies. Because of the presence of spatial dependency within the data and the fact that data on business startup rates is limited to the minority of establishments that have employees, we use a Bayesian spatial Tobit estimator. After controlling for a host of variables likely to influence economic growth, we find that broadband coverage does matter and that download speeds tend to be more important than upload speeds. This pattern holds for mobile coverage as well. Perhaps the most important finding is that the results vary across business type: what matters for new businesses in one industry may not matter for other industry classifications. In the end, our results reaffirm the policy notion that access to broadband is increasingly relevant to rural entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship, Broadband, and Gender: Evidence from Establishment Births in Rural America

Broadband access may have important implications for establishment births in rural areas, which feature thinner markets. Broadband may be especially important for rural nonemployer businesses, particularly those without a storefront, for access to nontraditional market channels. As women are more likely to run these types of small businesses, we further expect that broadband may have important implications for women-led businesses. With an effective instrumental variable approach, we find evidence that broadband access is a key factor leading to a higher establishment birth rate across business size and gender in rural areas. This paper identifies the largest effects on nonemployer, women-led and remote rural establishments.

In the News

Digital Navigator position to teach Forest County residents all about basic computer and internet skills
Pittsville Area Selected for State Pilot Program
Finding a Communications Solution
Craving Connection: Broadband Struggles Continue in Rural Wisconsin
Helping rural communities with economic development
Farming costs in Wisconsin were up 8 percent in 2021

Latest Work

2022 Northwoods Economic Development Summit
A Broader Vision of Quality of Life as Economic Development Policy
WIndicators Volume 5, Number 4: Returns to Higher Education
How to Utilize Data for Community Economic Development (Part II)
How to Access Data for Community Economic Development (Part I)
The Hotel Industry: Recovery and Future Development in Our Communities

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