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Ohio State University Extension


The Role of the Land-Grant University Cooperative Extension in Addressing Community Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) Programs 

Community Development
Gwynn Stewart, MS, Educator, Community Development Ohio State University Extension, Noble County

Whether it is through an ongoing, community-based Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program or specific community needs-assessment, Cooperative Extension professionals maintain an awareness of community needs and draw on the research-based tools and resources available through the land-grant university system. This fact sheet provides an overview of specialized BRE approaches and programs available through Cooperative Extension.

Cooperative Extension Business Retention and Expansion

The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 created America’s land-grant higher education institutions. They are key community partners in the development of business retention and expansion programs. Bringing research-based theory and practice to the community for the public good has long been the role of  land-grant universities. 

Cooperative Extension professionals connect the university to the local community and its citizens. As respected leaders in the field of community development, Extension supports community-based Business Retention Expansion programs with the goal to support and retain local businesses. Extension professionals coordinate BRE programs that integrate key community stakeholders, as well as civic, non-profit, and business professionals. Through customized BRE programs, Extension professionals work to enhance of local businesses and therefore, local communities, utilizing skills in facilitation, strategic planning, and leadership development,

Ohio State University Extension statewide and county-based community development educators assist communities with BRE initiatives. According to a 2020 JobsOhio presentation on BRE efforts, it was noted that 80% of JobsOhio projects come from existing companies. In addition, existing business expansion projects close 30% faster than other projects. While JobsOhio and its regional partners (including local economic development organizations) often focus on larger business, Extension-based options can fill gaps related to small business, cluster-specific, or event disaster-related needs. 

Communities that actively implement an ongoing BRE program focusing on the retention and expansion of local businesses will: improve the business climate of the community; help ensure local businesses remain competitive; increase employment; and stabilize the local economy.

A Small Business BRE Approach

Building on a wide body of work related to stimulating entrepreneurism in communities, Cooperative Extension can assist with small business targeted BRE. Private-sector job creation in the United States is driven primarily by small business and often viewed as a means to stimulate local economic activity. According to a study completed for the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses have continued to account for about two-thirds of net new jobs since 2010 (Dilger, 2019). As a result, it is critically important that community-based BRE programs provide support to small business enterprises, as well as large employers. Often, small businesses have little opportunity to collectively express their concerns and needs (Barefield, et al, 2017). 

Research suggests that small business startups, especially those with at least 20 employees, play a large role in net job creation, as do surviving younger businesses, those in operation for one to five years (Dilger, 2019). Small business ownership also provides an opportunity for minorities, women, and immigrants to increase income and independence and move into the economic mainstream of the American economy (Dilger, 2019).

Cluster-Specific Business Retention Expansion Programs

Extension can assist with community specific assessment and development of a BRE program customized to the local community’s needs. The use of university expertise in development of economic models, data-driven decisions or community-based volunteer and citizen participation efforts, results in connections and partnerships that can provide services to a region’s industry or a community’s business cluster owners. 

For example, The Ohio State University BRE program offers specific surveys about agriculture, healthcare, downtown retail, energy, home-based business and more. The targeted BRE programs allow a community to carefully consider sector-based issues, needs for support and opportunities for growth. 

Business Retention Expansion Programs during a Community Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic provides community and economic development professionals with the need to provide additional community-based crisis BRE programming. Whether it is business surveys, virtual visits, or support through connections to COVID-specific or other existing economic financing, Extension professionals provide assistance to businesses of all sizes. 

According to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), 92% of small businesses suffered negative effects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a crisis, Extension’s organizational networks at the local and regional levels connect communities to educational resources and support. For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, one rural Ohio county Extension office developed a digitally-delivered brief needs survey, hosted virtual lunch and learns, and produced digital educational documents and social media updates to assist businesses in need. Resources from state, regional and local sources such as business financing, access to required personal protection equipment (PPE), regulatory guidelines and support from the local county health department were compiled in one location for ease of use. 

Extension-Based BRE Resources

A variety of land-grant universities provide BRE programs. The Ohio State University was involved in the original development and became an early adopter of BRE principles and methodology. Ohio State’s program has existed since the mid-1980s. A wide variety of BRE program tools and topic-based fact sheets are available from Ohio State University Extension including:

  • A comprehensive BRE Bulletin
  • A BRE Training (Four Modules) with a BRE Handbook
  • A Pre-tested Survey Question Bank (for General and sector-specific BRE efforts)
  • Journal of Extension Article: "The Value in Evaluating and Communicating Program Impact: The Ohio BRE Program" 
  • Business Retention Expansion Program Fact Sheet (CDFS-1562)
  • Involving Volunteers in a Community-Led Business Retention Expansion Program Fact Sheet (CDFS-1563)
  • Coordinating a Community-Led Business Retention Expansion Program Fact Sheet (CDFS-1564)

Since the passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, land-grant universities have worked to expand research and extend knowledge to the public. Because of their ongoing relationship building efforts in a community, Extension professionals often have strong ties to local, regional and state business owners and leaders. As the primary public outreach function of the land-grant universities, Extension’s duty is to bring the immense human capital and research-based programs from the university to bear on locally-defined problems (Urbanowitz & Wilcox, 2013). In an effort to share the greater land-grant system body of work, the following brief synopsis of a few other BRE Extension-based programs is provided. 

Purdue University Extension 

In an effort to help communities in Indiana identify and respond to local business needs, Purdue University Extension offers BRE as a targeted program for small companies (businesses that employ between 10 to 99 employees). Purdue’s BRE program also features community comprehensive strategy development to assist and assess company and community needs. 

The University of Minnesota Extension

The University of Minnesota Extension Community Vitality program has offered BRE courses since 1996. Community leaders are able to select from an eight-week online course or a two-day, in-person workshop. The course is best-suited for economic and community development professionals, community leaders and other stakeholders who want to lead a community-led BRE program. 

North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Administered by The Southern Rural Development Center in several states, the CREATE BRIDGES (Celebrating Retail, Accommodations, Tourism, and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies) BRE initiative is designed to strengthen the retail, accommodation, tourism and entertainment sectors. These industries provide needed goods, services and amenities to local residents and visitors and enhance quality of life. They are also a major source of jobs and tax revenue in rural communities.

West Virginia University Extension

The West Virginia University Extension Service BRE program partners with local economic development leaders and local businesses to identify opportunities for business growth and issues that may result in job expansions or losses. The program focuses on economic resiliency and building business-friendly communities. 


Strengthening existing businesses to create thriving local economies is the ultimate goal of BRE programs. Viewed as a tremendous resource, many communities want an engaged university to help address local as well as global issues. Often serving as the “front door,” Extension serves as a portal for communities to initiate engagement and collaboration with the academic enterprise (Gee, et al., 2019). 


Acharya, Nish. (2019). Small Business Are Having A Bigger Impact On Job Creation Than Large Corporations, Forbes.

Barefield, A. & Tweeten, K. (2017). Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Fundamentals.

Dilger, Robert Jay. (2019). Small Business Administration and Job Creation, September, 2019 A Congressional Research Service Report: R41523.

Gee, E.G., Gavazzi, S.M., Rennekamp, R., & Bonanno, S. (2019). Cooperative Extension Services and the 21st Century Land-Grant Mission. The EvoLLLution.

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Ohio BRE Data Presentation. (Q1 2020)

Ohio State University Together as Buckeyes COVID-19 Series. (June 2020). Sharing strategies for rural businesses.

Urbanowitz, S & Wilcox, M.D. Examining Extension’s Capacity in Community Resources and Economic Development, Journal of Extension, V51-5a2.

BRE Web Sites

North Carolina State University

Ohio State University Extension BRE

Purdue Extension BRE

University of Minnesota BRE

West Virginia University Extension Service BRE

Program Area(s): 
Originally posted Dec 6, 2020.