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University of Minnesota Extension

Extension is expanding its online education and resources to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

Business retention and expansion course

"I've taken many courses for economic development and I will say this is by far the most robust. It's been around for 20 years. And with that there's a lot of information and supplemental materials … I would challenge you to at least take a look at it … If you don't have time to read it all, then peruse, skim it, dig into it …"
— Michael Paris, senior business development manager, Norfolk, Virginia (online course participant, fall 2019)

A healthy, vibrant local economy depends largely on the strength of existing businesses. Community leaders can help local businesses grow and thrive through business retention and expansion (BRE) programs.

University of Minnesota Extension has offered business retention and expansion courses since 1996. You can choose to take an eight-week online course or attend a two-day, in-person workshop. Both options provide an opportunity for you to learn how to conduct high-quality programs in your community or region.

Online course

The BRE online course is an eight-week class. A session is scheduled in 2021 for January 27 – March 30.


In-person course

The BRE in-person course is a traditional class over two days. A session is scheduled in 2021 for May 25–26.


Costs and discounts

  • Individual (per person): $600
  • Community members/teams*:
    • 2 person team: $900
    • 3–5 person team: $1,200
  • Full-time student: $110 — email your transcript to Michael Darger prior to registering

*Community-led BRE is all about teamwork, so we encourage teams to attend training together. We offer team discounts for groups from a town or city, county, school district, or other groups of contiguous communities. It is available for either the online or in-person course.


Everyone who completes the course receives a certificate of accomplishment from Extension. For individuals taking the course at full price, you will receive the following upon completion:

  • Certification from Business Retention and Expansion International (BREI). This is an international association that promotes and educates about BRE.
  • A one-year membership in BREI ($100 value).

Note: Team members finishing the course using the team price are eligible to receive the BREI certification and one-year membership for $75.

Meet the course instructors

Michael Darger and John Bennett are the course instructors.


Online course (winter) In-person course (spring)


"Business Retention and Expansion is such a vibrant program to launch for your community. And the UMN Extension course and Michael Darger are responsible for teaching us the process. Our economic development organization … is currently immersed in interviewing 100 businesses, gathering information from those interviews and having the responses analyzed to come up with the priority projects our businesses want and need to improve our economy … The UMN course lays out, in excellent detail, how to carry out this meaningful program."
— Dr. Nancy Shepherd (Farmington, NM)
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