WMU Home > WMU News >

WMU News

Professor studies the impact of local retailers

Aug. 28, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A professor at Western Michigan University is part of an effort that has been awarded a three-year, $500,000 grant to study the impact of local retailers on rural communities.

The grant is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative National Research Initiative and has been awarded to Dr. Barbara Frazier, WMU associate professor of family and consumer sciences, and her colleagues at Iowa State University and Ohio State University. Frazier is a co-principal investigator on the project along with Drs. Linda Niehm, associate professor of apparel, educational studies and hospitality management at ISU, and Leslie Stoel, associate professor of textiles and clothing at OSU.

Frazier and her fellow researchers will identify ways in which the retail sector in rural communities contributes to and enhances economic development.

"A key concept we'll be looking at is community resiliency and how communities can bounce back from adversity," Frazier says. "Rural communities have changed a lot over the years because of agricultural downsizing and global competition. Some are thriving and others have gone by the wayside. We want to examine the role of small businesses in helping create and support that resiliency."

Frazier says much work has been done to assess the economic impact of small businesses. Her study will look at that, but also will measure the more intangible benefits retailers bring to a small community, the non-economic, social impact they have. That includes the leadership business owners provide, whether it's supporting a local Little League team or creating a festival to boost the local economy. Those kinds of contributions haven't been well examined in previous studies.

A key to getting the grant is an outreach piece integrated into the effort, a requirement of NRI grants. Frazier's study will use survey results to create a course that will help students understand the role of small businesses in rural communities, while engaging them in rural, small business entrepreneurialism. Students also will interact with small businesses to share their perspectives.

Frazier says a big problem for rural communities is that many young people raised in small towns leave home to go to college and don't return.

"So business owners can talk to the college students about how they can make their communities more attractive to young people," Frazier says.

The research collaboration grew out of Frazier's doctoral work at Michigan State University, where she studied with her two research partners. The three collaborators were part of a team that also received a grant to stage a rural researchers conference in Kansas City in 2007.

"The team has been building toward this grant since 2004," Frazier says. "We are very excited to start work on the project."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400