"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 is scheduled in 2021 for August 4 – October 5.
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 fall 2021 session 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, discussions, role play, individual and small group work, and plenty of discussion.
Highlights include practice visits to real businesses, guest experts who provide BRE tips and stories, and a chance to get to know other economic developers and expand your network. While there is no course paper or homework, you will have the opportunity to think about the best BRE approach for your situation.
The course agenda is subject to change, but general topics will remain the same.
- Overview of the course and participant introductions
- BRE visitation options and big picture
- BRE interview guides/surveys
- Visitor training
- Prep for business visits
- Travel to business for interview
- Post-visit analysis of green and red flags
- Reflective recap of techniques used
- BRE team development and planning
- 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
- Another perspective on BRE
- Implementation of BRE priorities
- BRE evaluation using Ripple Effect Mapping or other methods
- Planning your BRE
- Presentations by individuals (optional) and facilitated discussion of the plans
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 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
"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)
"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."