The Higher ED Blog: What’s new in economic development research (fall 2015 edition, Part I)
Michelle Madden / November 9, 2015
Another season, another economic development research roundup. As I pored through the latest issues of Economic Development Quarterly, Regional Studies, and Journal of Rural Studies, I found so many interesting articles that I decided to run this roundup in two parts. Part I includes four original articles from the Journal of Rural Studies. Part II will come next Monday, with a selection of articles from the other two publications listed above.
Exploring the role and importance of post-disaster events in rural communities
When natural disasters strike rural communities, the natural response of the people living there is to host events designed to assist the recovery process. Post-disaster, many small communities lack the resources to mount a full-scale recovery process, so individual members of the community step up to provide support and fill gaps. Their efforts foster resilience during the time of greatest need, and help the community rebound in the weeks, months, and years afterward.
Researchers in Australia noticed the trend and decided to classify the types of events and their impact on recovery. They studied 87 events held after an outbreak of bushfires across the state of Victoria in 2009 that killed 173 people, injured 414 people, destroyed 2,100 homes and displaced 7,562 people. They found eight types of events.
- Fundraising events channel the outpouring of concern, particularly immediately after a disaster. The funds can pay for emergency supplies and services like food, clean water, shelter, and medicine. Later, financial assistance contributes to rebuilding.
- Grieving events are cathartic and provide an outlet during an emotional time.
- Community information sessions communicate to residents what has happened and what needs to happen next. They are usually organized by governments and delivered in a town hall style or to targeted groups, like small businesses.
- Community rebuilding events bring the community back to a state of normalcy, taking forms like support group meetings, clean ups, group construction projects, and festivals. They build community spirit and boost morale.
- Re-openings, as the name suggests, celebrate the re-opening of businesses, buildings, and public spaces. They are good for morale and promote the fact that something is once again available.
- VIP visits may be their own event or part of other types. Disaster sites commonly attract politicians and other notables who wish to contribute to recovery. The visits are typically welcome, especially if they announce funding.
- Commemorations happen at major milestones, like a one year anniversary. They can be as simple as a tree planting, or something more involved like a memorial service or the unveiling of a commemorative monument. These events can provide a sense of closure.
- Thanksgiving events occur during the recovery or resolution phases to thank everyone who assisted. Like grieving and commemorative events, they are part of the healing process and a way for the community to show their gratitude.
The authors recommend adopting a portfolio approach including all or a variety of the event types above. Hosting a range of events will serve different segments of the community, and satisfy evolving needs as the recovery process unfolds.
Drivers of agritourism supply and demand
Agriculture was once dominated by the traditional family farm, but today it’s largely a corporate affair. For the farmers that remain, they must adapt to this competitive environment by diversifying their activities and agritourism has emerged as a popular strategy. To successfully encourage agritourism, economic developers should understand what drives the supply and demand. A recent study out of Scotland explored this very question.
Surveys and interviews with farmers providing agritourism showed that the supply is primarily motivated by economic drivers. The farmers either need or want additional income, or they see the opportunity in tourism and want to exploit it. On a secondary level, some farmers are also driven by social drivers, wanting to provide agricultural education to urban-dwellers or maintain their farming heritage.
The authors also surveyed visitors to agricultural attractions to learn about agritourism demand. They discovered that most visitors could take or leave the farm experience, mostly engaging in agritourism for generic reasons related to tourism; attractive scenery, convenient location (day trip), and value for money were the top three reasons for visiting. Farm-related features like doing and seeing farm tasks and learning about farming were ranked lowest. However, local produce and farm animals were in the middle of the pack, showing that farms do have some intrinsic appeal. It’s important to note that the above rankings were for agritourism overall, and that the preferred features varied by the type of experience (e.g. farmhouse B&B, model farm, agricultural show, hands-on). Clearly, the visitors who sought out a hands-on experience were primarily motivated by agricultural features.
While it might seem from the findings above that focusing on agricultural features will be unprofitable, there is a way to offer farm experiences and still make money. The authors found that for these farmers (and other organizations that want to provide agricultural education as a public good), the best approach financially is to offer a hybrid model, where visitors come for (and spend money on) accommodations, shopping, and/or dining, but then have the opportunity to experience agriculture-focused activities on the side.
Guidelines for fostering smart rural growth
In 2010, the European Union added the notion of ‘smart growth’ to its ten-year growth strategy (n.b in the EU, smart refers to growth based on knowledge and innovation and has nothing to do with slowing urban sprawl). Since innovation, knowledge economies, and cluster development are usually considered in the urban context, a group of researchers out of Sweden explored how they might be implemented in the rural context.
Their research showed that the usual determinants of smart growth in urban areas, agglomeration and collaboration, could be adapted to the rural context. They also added a rural-specific theme: amenities and rural creative economies.
- Agglomeration: Previous research has shown that innovation, productivity, growth and development are greater in more densely populated areas. Cities benefit from access to markets and services, reduced transport costs, a skilled labour pool, knowledge spillovers from co-location of other firms. Rural areas can still benefit from agglomeration by focusing efforts on the most competitive local sectors as well as the more dense pockets, a town for example, and fostering sharing and learning processes within them.
- Amenities and rural creative economies: In Canada, Ontario in particular, there has been a lot of emphasis on building rural creative economies. This study underlines the value of those processes in creating more innovative rural economies. As many of us know, the creative class is attracted to outdoor amenities, arts and culture, and rural attributes that contribute to a high quality of life.
- Networks and collaborations: As with the agglomeration determinant, cities have an advantage when it comes to networks and collaboration, but rural areas can overcome their disadvantages. Installing high speed internet is the most important place to start. Next, it’s critical to facilitate in-flows of knowledge through networking activities and buildings links within and between regions. These links take multiple forms, including inter-regional partnerships and human mobility, and can be built virtually or via short visits. Permanent co-location is not necessary.
The authors note that smart development is not one-size-fits-all, and will be more difficult in peripheral rural areas than in areas closer to cities. As with all rural economic development efforts, the key is to know your local strengths and play to them.
About the author
Michelle Madden is the editor of Higher ED. She is also the Outreach Manager for the Economic Development Program and a graduate of the LED master’s program. She has authored a number of the articles in this series on behalf of the students, and has published several of her own blogs on economicdevelopment.org as well. Follow her on Twitter at @michelle_mad.
About the series
Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.
Established in 1988, the Local Economic Development program is the only master’s program in Canada devoted solely to local economic development. It offers a balance between theory and practice by combining coursework, a major research paper, an internship, and weekly seminars featuring guest speakers. Students are prepared for careers in local, community, or regional economic development.
The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.