Completed Projects

The NERCRD has a long history of leading or partnering on research and outreach projects that address pressing rural development issues. Over the last decade, the NERCRD leveraged $2.34 in external grants each year for each dollar of core funds received from USDA NIFA. Below is an archive of NERCRD’s recently completed major projects.

Projects by topic:


Northeast Digital Equity Summit

The Northeast Digital Equity Summit was held September 19, 2023, and provided an opportunity for land-grant University educators and researchers across the Northeast region and beyond to learn from one another and expand capacity for digital equity programming. Follow the link below to access recordings, presentation files, and other resources.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA via NERCRD core funding

Accompanying Institution(s): Penn State Extension, University of Maryland Extension, Cornell Cooperative Extension, NERCRD

Start Date: September 2023   End Date: September 2023

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Ecosystem Services on Working Lands in the Northeast U.S.

NERCRD provided advisory support to this effort, which was conducted by Alicia F. Coleman and Mario Reinaldo Machado and commissioned by the Association of Northeast Extension Directors and the Northeastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors. Coleman and Machado assessed over 1,300 ecosystem service provisioning programs and policies across the U.S. Northeast. The assessment describes the programs’ institutional arrangements, their incentive structures, and the ecosystem services they provide. Their findings were released in a report published by the Extension Foundation in 2022. In 2023, Coleman and Machado also published their findings Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, and NERCRD provided travel support to Coleman so she could present the findings at the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals annual meeting in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, in June.  

Funding Agency: NEED and NERA

Principal Investigator: Alicia F. Coleman and Mario Reinaldo Machado

Start Date: September 2021   End Date: June 2023

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The Role of Innovation in Rural Firm Emergence and Vitality

Innovation lies at the heart of most entrepreneurial activity, and the goal of this USDA NIFA funded project was to deepen the understanding of whether and how entrepreneurial innovation can mitigate the growing economic threats facing rural U.S. workers and communities. This project, which ran from May 2018 through April 2023, utilized a newly available dataset that showed innovative activity, broadly defined, is far more prevalent in rural areas than was commonly believed; this dataset for the first time also allowed for 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, the researchers tested 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 researchers sought to provide unique insights on female and minority entrepreneurship.

Collaborators on the project included: 

  • Stephan J. Goetz (PI), Zheng Tian, and Luyi Han (NERCRD/Penn State)
  • Anil Rupasingha (USDA Economic Research Service)
  • Timothy Wojan (National Science Foundation)

Below is a list of impacts and outputs from this project, which will be updated regularly as the research team continues to write up their findings.


  • Through more than a dozen presentations to both national and international audiences made by members of the team, researchers, innovation policy makers, and non-technical audiences have increased their understanding of rural innovation, how it can be measured more effectively, and how it can be supported.
  • For example, the researchers found that cloud-based computing directly contributes to business innovation, but rural businesses lacking sufficient broadband capacity to access cloud services are missing out on their innovation-boosting potential. These findings can be used by policymakers and business-support organizations to foster greater opportunities for rural innovation, and they were shared widely through a peer-reviewed publication, a Penn State News release, and several presentations.



  • Wojan, Timothy R., Stephan J. Goetz, Zheng Tian, and Luyi Han. 2023. “Innovation and Exports: Differences in Rural and Urban US Firms.” Presented at the 62nd European Regional Science Association Congress, Alicante, Spain, August 31.
  • Han, Luyi, Stephan J Goetz, and Timothy R Wojan. 2022. “Experimenting in the Cloud: The Digital Divide’s Impact on Innovation.” Presented at the North American Regional Science Council Meetings, Montreal, Canada, November 9.
  • Han, Luyi, Zheng Tian, Stephan J. Goetz. 2023. “How Export Performance Is Mediated by Varieties of Innovation, Owner Characteristics, and Location.” Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of Southern Regional Science Association, Savannah, GA, April 30.
  • Han, Luyi, Zheng Tian, Stephan J. Goetz, and Timothy R Wojan. 2023a. “Are Some Innovation Self-Reports in the Annual Business Survey Biased? A Regression Discontinuity Test.” Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of Western Regional Science Association, Big Island, HI, USA, February 15, and at the 2022 Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology Research and Policy Conference, Washington, DC, October 25.
  • Han, Luyi, Zheng Tian, Stephan J. Goetz, Anil Rupasingha, and Timothy R Wojan. 2022. “Is User Entrepreneurship More Inclusive Entrepreneurship? Evidence from Two Micro Datasets.” Presented at the North American Regional Science Council, Montreal, Canada, November 10.
  • Han, Luyi, Zheng Tian, Stephan J. Goetz, and Timothy R. Wojan. 2023b. “Decomposing the Rural-Urban Export Gap: Evidence from U.S. Firms.” Presented at the 62nd European Regional Science Association Congress, Alicante, Spain, August 31.
  • Han, Luyi, Zheng Tian, Stephan J. Goetz, and Timothy R. Wojan. 2023c. “Decomposing the Rural-Urban Export Gap: Evidence from U.S. Firms.” Presented at the 70th Annual North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International, San Diego, CA, November 15.
  • Han, Luyi, Zheng Tian, Timothy R. Wojan, and Stephan J. Goetz. 2024. “How Export Performance Is Mediated by Varieties of Innovation, Owner Characteristics, and Location.” Poster presented at the American Economic Association Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, January 5.
  • Han, Luyi, Timothy R Wojan, and Stephan J. Goetz. 2023b. “Internationalization of the Rural Nonfarm Economy and the Cloud: Evidence from US Firm-Level Export Data.” Presented at the 2023 Meeting of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association, Washington, D.C., July 23.
  • Tian, Zheng, Luyi Han, Stephan J. Goetz. 2023. “User Entrepreneurship and Firm Employment Growth.” Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of Southern Regional Science Association, Savannah, GA, March 30-April 1, 2023, Savannah, GA, April 30.
  • Tian, Zheng, Luyi Han, and Stephan J. Goetz. 2023. “Examining Rural-Urban Innovation Disparities: A Study Using the Oaxaca-Blinder Decomposition Method.” Presented at the 70th Annual North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International, San Diego, CA, November 16.
  • Tian, Zheng, Luyi Han, Timothy R. Wojan, Stephan J. Goetz, and Anil Rupasingha. 2024. “User Entrepreneurship and Firm Employment Growth.” Poster presented at the American Economic Association Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, January 5.
  • Tian, Zheng, Timothy R Wojan, and Stephan J. Goetz. 2023. “Growth Trajectories of Rural Innovative Firms.” Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of Western Regional Science Association, Big Island, HI, USA Feb 15 – 18, 2023, February 15.
  • Wojan, Timothy R. 2023. “Grassroots Design Meets Grassroots Innovation:  Rural Design Orientation and Firm Performance.” Presented at the 62nd European Regional Science Association Congress, Alicante, Spain, August 30.
  • Wojan, Timothy R, Zheng Tian, Luyi Han, and Stephan J Goetz. 2022. “SAIRE sans Satire? The Promise and Perils of Small Area Innovation Rate Estimation.” Presented at the North American Regional Science Council Meetings, Montreal, Canada, November 9.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Stephan J. Goetz, Penn State

Accompanying Institution(s): National Science Foundation, USDA Economic Research Service

Start Date: May 2018   End Date: April 2023

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Enhancing Rural Economic Opportunities, Community Resilience, and Entrepreneurship

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. During the course of this multi-year, multi-state project, the team of researchers from land-grant universities across the U.S. examined the forces that shape rural communities and identifying emerging threats and opportunities. As a collaborative interdisciplinary group, this project tackled multifaceted issues in many states, including natural disasters, food deserts, local foods, climate change, diversity, jobs, housing, infrastructure, and disease. Researchers also anaylized 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).

Funding Agency: USDA and Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences

Start Date: October 2017   End Date: September 2022

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Listening Sessions Initiative on Rural Community, Economic, and Workforce Development

In the wake of multiple chronic challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities and small towns across the United States are beginning to build back from the associated impacts on their economies, workforces, and communities. These recovery efforts pose critical questions of where and how to invest. To identify where stakeholders engaged in rural development see the greatest need, and the greatest opportunity, the Regional Rural Development Centers embarked on a process to collect feedback through a year-long initiative, resulting in a widely shared report and data dashboard.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA, through a partnership with Oklahoma State University and the Extension Foundation

Principal Investigator: Jason Entsminger, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development

Accompanying Institution(s): North Central Rural Development Center, Southern Rural Development Center, and Western Rural Development Center

Start Date: September 2021   End Date: August 2022

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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, examined clustering behavior in production agriculture. Using case study literature and detailed commodity data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the research team tested 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. The research team learned that across commodities, a high level of environmental conservation activities and high diversity of products and services were positively correlated with geographic clustering, controlling for other known causes of clustering. This constitutes evidence for the idea that clustering may be caused by the need to share knowledge on particular agricultural practices, rather than being explained entirely by the existence of common geographic “anchors.” They also produced a report of federal-level policy recommendations based on their findings.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Paul Gottlieb, Rutgers University

Accompanying Institution(s): The University of Toledo, NERCRD

Start Date: August 2017   End Date: July 2022

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The AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion Project

Beginning in 2020, NERCRD invested in this project with the approval of its Board of Directors. The AgriCluster Retention and Expansion (ACRE) Program is a strategic planning program for farmer-led marketing and environmental projects by the Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems, which is affiliated with Cornell University. ACRE provides training in strategic business planning tools and processes that engage all stakeholders in a value chain to work collectively in carving out and defending a market niche.

The framework was piloted in 2021 with a group of New York onion growers, who explored collaborative promotion and marketing. The pilot phase ended in June 2022. Team members report that their work with the onion growers was highly influential in developing the ACRE curriculum and process.

The initial NERCRD seed funding of roughly $23,000 leveraged an additional $144,000 in a three-year grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NESARE) professional development program to further this project. This support is allowing the team to build out the infrastructure for the ACRE Program, including:

  • An 18-unit self-paced Moodle course on eXtension Campus on launching an ACRE Project.
  • An ACRE Facilitator’s toolkit complete with instructions, worksheets, and a case study to illustrate the ACRE process.
  • An ACRE community of practice to expand the use of the ACRE approach to agriculture development professionals in the Northeast and elsewhere.

As of February 2024, 28 service providers (including nonprofit and Cooperative Extension staff) completed the online course, and joined the ACRE Facilitator community of practice, which meets monthly. Another 127 enrolled, putting the program well on its way toward having trained ACRE Facilitators in all Northeast states and Washington, D.C. Participants thus far are largely from the Northeast, but also include individuals from the Southeast and the Midwest, and from as far away as France and the Republic of Ireland.

For more information, contact Duncan Hilchey at

Funding Agency: NERCRD, via its core funding from USDA NIFA; subsequent funding from NE-SARE

Principal Investigator: Duncan Hilchey, Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems

Start Date: January 2020   End Date: June 2022

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USDA AMS Local and Regional Food Systems COVID-19 Rapid Response

NERCRD partnered with the University of Kentucky 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 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.

Funding Agency: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

Accompanying Institution(s): University of Kentucky, Colorado State University, University of Maine, NERCRD

Start Date: August 2020   End Date: December 2021

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Regional Economic Development as a New Theoretical Framework

This project led by Indiana University sought 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 expanded theory about regional economic development to include more comprehensive data and a diverse array of academic disciplines, and built a complex computational model that integrates data science and regional economic science. In addition to drawing on traditional socioeconomic information and methods, it made use of data from unconventional sources such as social media, mouse clicks and data extracted from websites via web-scraping tools.

Funding Agency: U.S. Economic Development Administration

Principal Investigator: Timothy Slaper, Indiana University

Accompanying Institution(s): U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Ohio State University, Penn State University and the University of California, San Diego

Start Date: January 2018   End Date: December 2019

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 and a Guidebook for Practitioners.

Funding Agency: Appalachian Regional Commission

Accompanying Institution(s): Dialogue + Design and Associates, NERCRD, and West Virginia University

Start Date: January 2018   End Date: March 2019

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