As a regional research hub, the Northeast Center leads or supports several funded projects, in addition to administering occasional small-grants programs.

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A collection of news stories about NERCRD research.

Current Center-Led Projects

The Role of Innovation in Rural Firm Emergence and Vitality
Innovation lies at the heart of most entrepreneurial activity, and yet its role in supporting the growth and survival of new and existing rural firms remains poorly understood, largely because suitable data have been lacking. A newly available dataset shows that innovative activity, broadly defined, is far more prevalent in rural areas than commonly believed; this dataset for the first time also allows in-depth research to examine the roles of different types of innovation in rural firm success. By combining this nationally representative, novel establishment-level data set with detailed Census micro data we can test hypotheses about the emergence and viability of rural entrepreneurship that could not be examined previously. In addition, by linking the establishment survey with founders' information in the Census Survey of Business Owners and the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs the research will provide unique insights on female and minority entrepreneurship. This project began in May 2018, and is funded by USDA-NIFA for three years.

Current Projects with Partners

Rural Community Well-Being: Using Tourism Indicators to Identify, Understand and Address COVID Pandemic Impacts and Strategies for Resiliency
NERCRD TAC Member and West Virginia University (WVU) Associate Professor and Rural Tourism Specialist Doug Arbogast will lead this four-year USDA NIFA-funded project, which was developed with support from NERCRD and will launch in 2022. With a working title of Tourism, Resiliency, and Indicators for Post-Pandemic Planning (TRIP), the goals of this integrated research-Extension include:

  • Identifying economic, social, and environmental indicators for sustainable tourism (across all U.S. counties and in three case-study communities);
  • Surveying residents and visitors in case-study destinations to identify social and environmental indicators;
  • Delivering Extension programming in targeted “gateway” communities using research-based insights generated by the project and the
  • First Impressions destination assessment tool; and,'
  • Assessing change over time and associated impacts, providing a mechanism to regularly update the data, monitor changes, and reflect on community goals.

In addition to Arbogast, other collaborators include: Daniel Eades and Jinyang Deng (WVU); Stephan J. Goetz, Jason Entsminger, Claudia Schmidt, and Harry Crissy (Penn State); Lisa Chase (University of Vermont); and Penelope Whitman (University of New Hampshire).

Learn more at the USDA NIFA project page:

Tourism Resilience and Community Sustainability: Adaptation and Recovery of Rural Businesses and Destinations
Also led by Doug Arbogast in collaboration with the National Extension Tourism Research Committee, this multi-state Hatch research project will examine resilience and recovery through the lens of rural tourism in the Northeast region. Planned objectives include conducting collaborative assessments of rural tourism at the multi-state level; investigating the resilience, adaptability, and recoverability of different components of the rural tourism system; and identifying strategies that tourism businesses and destinations are using to cope with the pandemic. In addition to Arbogast, other team members of this project include:

  • Jinyang Deng, West Virginia University
  • Daniel Eades, West Virginia University Cooperative Extension
  • Charlie French, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
  • Robert Robertson, University of New Hampshire
  • Penelope Whitman, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
  • Stephan J. Goetz, Penn State/NERCRD
  • Jason Entsminger, Penn State/NERCRD
  • Xinyi Qian, University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension
  • Matt Ulmer, University of Alabama Cooperative Extension
  • Miles Phillips, Oregon State University Cooperative Extension

Creating an Effective Support System For Small And Medium-Sized Farm Operators To Succeed In Agritourism
The goal of the grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to develop and disseminate practical information that will allow rural communities and owners of small and medium-sized farms to benefit from the growing consumer interest in on-farm experiences. The project will be the first to examine the laws, regulations, and level of support for agritourism in each state and compare them with a set of economic indicators, analyzing why some counties are more effective at supporting agritourism enterprises. The team, led by Penn State Assistant Professor of Marketing and Local/Regional Food Systems and NERCRD Faculty Affiliate Claudia Schmidt, also will use social network analysis to understand how agritourism operators interact with one another and supporting organizations.

USDA AMS Local and Regional Food Systems COVID-19 Rapid Response
NERCRD partnered with the University of Kentucky (UK) and Colorado State University on a one-year Cooperative Agreement with the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service to research the impacts, adaptations and innovations of COVID-19 on U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems (LRFS) nationally. This highly engaged, real-time project focuses on capturing rapid responses of initial and ongoing COVID-19-related changes in the food system and is designed to support timely innovation by collecting and disseminating easily digestible ideas, best practices, and readily adoptable approaches to COVID-19 adaptation. During the project's first year (2020-2021), team members publish emergent findings on the project website each month, including sector impact assessment reports for each segment of the LRFS documenting initial challenges of the pandemic on markets and populations and innovation briefs highlighting promising adaptations to new challenges. In addition, the project hosted a monthly webinar series for researchers and practitioners, providing the latest updates and analysis from the field.

Industry Clusters and the Location of Agriculture: Establishing a Theoretical Base for Economic Development Practice
Production agriculture has largely been considered to be beyond the scope of cluster theory. As a result, key insights from the theory have not been fully leveraged for agricultural and rural development practice. This study, led by NERCRD TAC Chair Paul Gottlieb, Rutgers University, will provide proof of principle for clustering behavior in production agriculture. Using case study literature and detailed commodity data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, we will test the hypothesis that certain known drivers of transactional clustering behavior are also active in agriculture: that they are correlated with observed geographic clustering, controlling for factors like climate requirements and industry size. Outputs of this project will include maps and a new typology of agricultural commodities based on clustering propensity, geographic behavior, and supply chain characteristics. The project will give practitioners - for example, extension agents working in rural development - a basic sense of the extent to which cluster-inspired development tools are appropriate for particular agricultural commodities.

Enhancing Rural Economic Opportunities, Community Resilience, and Entrepreneurship (NE-1749)
The quality of rural life is affected by the migration of people into and out of rural communities, the evolution of agriculture and industry, local social organization, and public policy. A team of researchers from land-grant universities across the U.S. is examining the forces that shape rural communities and identifying emerging threats and opportunities. As a collaborative interdisciplinary group, this project is tackling multifaceted issues in many states, including natural disasters, food deserts, local foods, climate change, diversity, jobs, housing, infrastructure, and disease. Researchers are also analyzing the impact of different development strategies on rural wealth creation, including natural resource-based strategies (such as energy production), amenity-based strategies (like tourism), and knowledge-based strategies (for example, attracting the creative class).

Center-funded Projects

In 2017, the Center issued an RFP for "Impacts of successful Extension and outreach programs." Information about the three funded projects.

In 2016, the Center announced an award program to support data access and research in rural business innovation and economic development. Researchers from the three funded projects presented their findings at the 2017 North American Regional Science Council meeting in Vancouver, BC. This program was supported by a grant from the USDA Economic Research Service.

In 2015, the Center issued an RFP for "Regional Collaboration of Successful CRD Extension Programs Planning Grant." Two proposals were selected to receive funding:

Completed Projects

Regional Economic Development as a New Theoretical Framework
This project led by Indiana University seeks to build models and analytical tools that will enable policy makers and practitioners to craft development strategies and policies tailored to a region's characteristics and capacities. The research team will expand theory about regional economic development to include more comprehensive data and a diverse array of academic disciplines, and will build a complex computational model that integrates data science and regional economic science. In addition to drawing on traditional socioeconomic information and methods, it will make use of data from unconventional sources such as social media, mouse clicks and data extracted from websites via web-scraping tools.

AMS Grant Writing Workshops and Technical Assistance (AMSTA)
Launched in 2014, this project funded by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and National Institutes of Food and Agriculture shares knowledge through in-person grant writing workshops, as well as additional tools and materials provided through the AMSTA website. In Phase I, 137 state trainings focusing on effective grant-writing practices, with an emphasis on USDA's Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Programs, were were held in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reaching more than 3,000 participants. In Phase II, the program was re-offered in states identified by the USDA as highest priority. Currently, the program is providing technical assistance to individuals and businesses who have been awarded an AMS grant and are carrying out their funded projects.

Strengthening Economic Resilience in Appalachian Communities
The economies of many counties and sub-regions in the Appalachian Region have historically depended on a few dominant industries, such as mining or manufacturing. In recent years, Appalachian coal production--particularly in the Central Appalachian coal basin--has plummeted. Coal companies have gone bankrupt, resulting in job losses with devastating effects on families, communities, counties, and states. Using state-of-the-art research methods, focus groups, and community-level surveys, this project with Downstream Strategies LLC and the Appalachian Regional Commission investigated best practices, strategies, and policies that local leaders can use to enhance the future economic prospects of coal-impacted communities throughout the Appalachian Region. It resulted in a Technical Report (pdf) and a Guidebook for Practitioners (pdf).

Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast (EFSNE)
This USDA-Funded Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) project, which ran from 2011 to 2018, studied whether greater reliance on regionally produced foods could improve food access and affordability for disadvantaged communities, while also benefiting farmers and others in the food supply chain. The project brought together researchers, educators, entrepreneurs, and community leaders from a twelve-state region in the Northeast to shed new light on how the food system can better serve all Americans. Resources from this project.

Linking Health Care Reform and Economic Development in the Agriculture Sector (VT)
Researchers and Extension professionals are exploring how health insurance decisions affect farm and ranch families. Activities include interviewing farmers, hosting webinars, analyzing policy impacts, and developing tools for professionals who work with farm families.

National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP)
The National Agricultural & Rural Development Policy Center is organized by the Regional Rural Development Centers to provide information about the increasingly contentious and complex agricultural and rural development U.S. policy issues. Current signature areas are energy and the environment, food systems development, and self-employment and entrepreneurship.

Enhancing the Viability of Underserved Small Farms and Rural Communities Using Insights from Emerging Network Science
The Northeast Center brought together partners including Delaware State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Tennessee State University for a competitive USDA capacity building grant. This project will provide the opportunity to expand networks for small farmers in Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. This project team has produced a substantial training manual for Extension Educators who wish to conduct their own network analyses of farmer groups.

Impacts of Multifunctional Operations on Long-Term Sustainability and Prosperity of Small and Medium Sized Farms and Rural Communities
The Northeast Center brought together partners including University of Vermont and the USDA Economic Research Service for an AFRI Foundational Grant. The purpose of this project is to study small and medium-sized farms involved in multifunctional operations in the U.S., with an emphasis on the New England region. Multifunctional farm operations are hypothesized to enhance the long term sustainability and prosperity both of farmers and their rural communities.

eXtension Community of Practice: Local, Regional, and Community Food Systems
The Northeast Center collaborated with faculty and educators across the nation in the development of an eXtension Community of Practice (CoP) in the area of local and regional food systems development. It shares models, findings, best practices, challenges, conceptual frameworks and data. It is increasing awareness about regional food systems, and is enhancing the ability for Extension personnel to contribute to their development.

Assessing the Supplier Role of Selected Fresh Produce Value Chains in the United States (USDA ARS)
This project embedded economies of scale concepts into experimental models to identify the optimal locations for distribution facilities such that small and mid-sized farms can access retail, institutional, and commercial markets. Project team members refined the model and disaggregated annual production data to accomplish project goals.

Bringing Research and Communities Together to Advance a Regional Food Systems Project (USDA/NIFA)
In addition to organizing a highly successful national end-of-project conference for the EFSNE project in 2015, this grant allowed team members to organize community events aimed at extending the project's scholarship into five of the project communities.

Demographic Dimensions of Diversity
(Relevant for Extension Educators) This section lists basic demographic variables related to diversity that are relevant for Extension educators, discusses why the variables are important, and provides links to data sources for the different variables at different levels of geographic detail. Data are available at the state, county and sub-county levels, such as the Census tract level. Most of the data are also available at different points in time, allowing basic trends to be identified.

Electronic commerce, commonly known as e-commerce, is a type of industry where buying and selling of product or service is conducted over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks.

This page was last updated November 21, 2018.