"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.
The BRE online course is an eight-week class. A session in 2023 is to be determined.
The course features a community economic development business retention and expansion (BRE) model. This approach includes three key steps and broad-based community involvement that allows both volunteers and professionals to connect with businesses.
The course also infuses discussion and content about staff-driven continuous BRE visitation approaches — examining the similarities and differences between continuous BRE methods and the University of Minnesota’s community economic development BRE model. The course will enable you to consider how different BRE approaches can be valuable for your economic development situation.
The course typically involves two to four hours per week over an eight-week period. You can work at times convenient for your schedule. Staying involved on a weekly basis, however, optimizes your experience. There are weekly videos/readings, activities and discussion forums. Bi-weekly discussions feature various topics.
The course will help you create a plan for your community or region’s new BRE initiative or to improve your existing program.
The course schedule is subject to change, but general topics will remain the same.
Materials included in the course:
- The special BRE issue of Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society, Volume 48(2)
Weekly topic on Canvas course site (learn on your own)
- Week 1: Introducing the BRE process
- Week 2: Strategic considerations for your BRE
- Week 3: Getting your BRE off the ground
- Week 4: Building your team
- Week 5: Getting going on business visits, either in-person or virtual
- Week 6: Responding to business concerns
- Week 7: Analysis – decision-making – action
- Week 8: Building and sustaining credible BRE initiatives over time
Scheduled Zoom sessions (learn together)
- We’ll discuss the weekly topics as well as topics appropriate to BRE in the COVID-19 situation, such as empathic listening, online community engagement, and more.
The BRE in-person course is a traditional class over two days. A session in 2023 is to be determined.
The course is held at the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. It is a two-day BRE immersion that includes presentations, video, individual and small group work, and lots of peer discussion.
Highlights include practicing interviewing techniques at real businesses, guest experts who provide BRE tips and stories, and getting to know other economic developers while expanding your network. This year, for the first time, there will be a special focus on business succession and transition research, methods and case studies. We've added this as there are 50,000+ business owners in Minnesota that will be exiting their businesses in the next several years.
You will have the opportunity to think about the best BRE approach for your situation.
Note: In the unfortunate event that the pandemic causes in-person instruction to become unavailable at UMN Extension, we will attempt to pivot to an online delivery mode via Zoom and other virtual tools. If this happens, full refunds will be available for anyone who doesn’t want to participate virtually.
The course agenda is subject to change, but general topics will remain the same.
Overview of the course and introductions
Introducing the BRE process
Strategic Considerations for your BRE
Getting your BRE off the ground
Prep for your business visit
Travel to business for interview
Post-visit analysis of green and red flags
Building your team
Individual review of planning and team building materials
- Overview/Q&A of first-day learning
- Interpreting data and selecting potential project ideas and themes; BRE research reports
- Individual analysis of survey with data
- Small teams create two-to-three appropriate projects for a strategic theme
- Discuss the priority project selection process
A guest presentation on BRE
Implementation of BRE priority projects
Building and sustaining credible BRE initiatives over time
Planning your BRE
Wrap-up of the course
Costs and discounts
- Individual (per person): $575
- Community members/teams*:
- 2 person team: $950
- 3–5 person team: $1,300
- 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 University of Minnesota Extension.
- Meets a course requirement to receive a Business Retention and Expansion International (BREI) certification and one-year membership for $75. BREI is an international association that promotes and educates about BRE.
Meet the course instructors
Michael Darger, John Bennett and Eric King are the course instructors.
Online course (express interest) In-person course (express interest)
"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)
"I was so impressed with this course I almost feel guilty giving any feedback! Michael did a great job and is a wonderful ambassador for UMN. He is extremely knowledgeable but still personable, accessible, and understanding. He is truly one of the good ones."
"We have visited 75 businesses to date. My task force is very strong — they are taking their roles and responsibilities very seriously. We are performing red flag reviews and follow-up. We are using Salesforce for data collection … the UM BRE program is great — what I learned has helped me tremendously with my BRE program."
"I thoroughly enjoyed Michael and John’s instruction in the BR&E online course. I appreciate the interactive coursework that included real data and examples I can relate with. The material is easy to understand and organized very well. With the resources provided in the course and the training I received, I am ready to start a BR&E program in my community. I would highly recommend this course to other economic development professionals."
"I had zero baseline knowledge of BRE prior to the workshop. While I am not totally confident in implementing the program, I now have all the resources to work through and contacts to answer questions. It was a dense two days but I was given a great tool-kit!"
"Great discussions, material, and great opportunity to do the practice visits with local businesses. Thanks!"
"Great job/training, much more involved than I expected. Didn't like long survey at first but I think it's the right way. BRE much more involved than I thought and many more volunteers than I thought. Rethinking and will change our BRE visits."
"I have done BRE visits for (town name withheld) in SE Colorado and this training was excellent. It continues my appreciation of BRE as an economic development strategy."
"Kudos for running the course in such an effective manner. I was able to gain a lot of insight during the eight-week period. Furthermore, we are exploring whether some elements of our BRE training can be delivered virtually, so it was great to see that web-based learning can be effective as a teaching tool."
"The BRE class was highly informative and applicable to my daily work in economic development. Learning the history, theory and practice of BRE has positively impacted my effectiveness as a business developer as I engage with employers in our community."
"The online BRE class provides an excellent platform and toolkit for undertaking a community business retention and expansion program. The online offering provides flexibility needed for busy economic development professionals."
"The availability of an online class allowed our community BRE stakeholders to take this class together without leaving our community. The communication from the instructors was informative and prompt. The lessons were informative, and we all gained useful information for our next community BRE survey to have great results."
"I think it was a great class and having the ability to take it online was an excellent option. If it hadn't been offered online, we wouldn't have had this opportunity."
"This was my first online course, and I was pleased with the entire experience. I felt the presenters, materials, communication, and process was well done, and I could manage the time while working full time."
"Both presenters were very knowledgeable and excited about BRE. Very positive and respectful."
"Thanks for a good class. Hopefully, some of this will sink in so I can use it in 6 to 12 months when I am ready."
"Online is always great, as well as being able to do and submit your assignments so easily. Methods that save time, yet keeps you connected so much easier."
"I've used my BRE training extensively. It was a great class and has been profitable for my company and our client communities."
Independent learning option
Do you enjoy handling projects and tasks on your own? Review our introduction to BRE page to explore the process and learn as you go.