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Tech Spearheading Research On Economic Disasters

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Tech Spearheading Research On Economic Disasters

Tennessee Tech is researching how small businesses and communities have responded to economic shocks.

Tennessee Tech Center For Rural Innovation Lead Researcher Payton Womack said the goal is to create a plan to better respond to disastrous events in the future. Womack said an actual manual will be composed based on feedback from business owners across the Upper Cumberland.

“It can be seen through what has happened with the COVID-19 crisis, natural disasters like the tornadoes we saw in our area in March,” Womack said. “What these shocks do essentially is mess with our economic prosperity and the progress we’re generating in our region.”

Center for Rural Innovation Director Michael Aikens said the goal is to create a plan that can be scaled and replicated in any rural region. He said this is why so much time has gone into informal research over the last eight months, before things ramp up this summer.

“We don’t want to provide a solution that is looking for a problem,” Aikens said. “What we want to do, is we want to completely understand what the problem is. What’s that landscape out there? What are the issues that the businesses are facing in the pandemic, and also what are the issues outside of the pandemic?”

Womack said this summer’s research will be twofold. She said the first part will be recruiting 30 small business owners for a focus group.

“What was the response to the pandemic? What areas did they struggle with, what areas did they not struggle with?” Womack said. “Because at the end of the day we don’t want to create solutions for problems that don’t exist. We want to address the challenges that small businesses have from the ground up.

She said the second part will be conducting county level analysis to determine the best policy.

“Looking at all the different factors that can contribute to resiliency,” Womack said. “So we can get a perspective of what type of policies would better help increase resiliency. So looking at population age, industry diversity and creating this resiliency index capacity measure. It’s not a grade by any means but it’s an insight on how well was White County able to withstand the shock and what was their economy made out of?”

Aikens said that context is everything when assessing how these economic shocks affect the region. He said this allows the opportunity to apply these procedures to any rural region.

“As knowledge emerges from the particular CARES research project, we’re sharing that along the way,” Aikens said. “For example, Payton created a very comprehensive literature review back in the fall. We’ve actually put that out for public consumption on our Rural Re-imagined web page at the university. That is the universities grand challenge, we want to transform rural living through science, technology, innovation and economic development. One of the key ways and primary areas we want to look at is public knowledge and how we disseminate this knowledge as early as we can, as accurately as we can.”

Aikens said this research became possible thanks to CARES act funding. He said they have partnered with the UCDD, Biz Foundry, the Small Business Development Center and WCTE on the research.


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