Factors Influencing Participation in BR&E Programs: A Study of Local Coordinators in Six States

Ilvento, Thomas W.
Loveridge, Scott
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Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.
This study used a telephone survey of coordinators of local Business Retention and Expansion Programs (BR&E). The focus of the of the study was to survey BR&E coordinators who conducted programs in the last five years to better understand the factors that lead the community and the coordinator to undertake a BR&E program. We used state program leaders to identify coordinators in six participating states: Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and West Virginia. The states represented programs that had a similar approach to BR&E in terms of a community approach which used volunteers by design. A total of 94 Coordinators were identified, and 80 responded to the survey during the summer and fall of 1998 (85% response rate). Of those that did not respond, six were no longer working in the community and could not be contacted. Initial contact was made by phone to explain the project and to schedule a phone interview. Following the initial phone contact, a copy of the survey and an explanation of the project was mailed to the respondent. Most of the interviews were conducted over the phone, but in some cases coordinators sent the surveys in the mail. For the most part coordinators reported few concerns or conflicts prior to beginning a BR&E program. However, local coordinators reported that many businesses were not aware of programs available to them and that this was a motivating force in initiating the program. Furthermore, many indicated that citizens were not knowledgeable about economic development and the problems faced by local businesses. In general the coordinators recognized and supported many of the benefits that we generally use to promote BR&E programs. When asked what attracted them to a BR&E program they answered (in order of importance) -- the program emphasized a response to local business needs; it focused on existing local businesses; it allowed for local decision-making; and there was a written report and written priority projects. Coordinators were also asked to rate factors about the program that influenced their personal participation. Their answers reflected a mix of community and personal interests. The factors with the highest rankings were: it would help firms remain and grow; it would help them develop better contacts with businesses; it would help them learn about businesses; it would help their organization; and the program was needed in the community.