MTSU’s Business and Economic Research Center will conduct a wage and benefit survey for industries located in rural areas of Middle Tennessee in hopes of equipping economic development officials with valuable data that can be used to recruit new industry to the 41-county survey area.
BERC will administer the survey through a partnership with the Middle Tennessee Industrial Development Association, which is using a $45,000 rural business development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office. The survey and grant were announced earlier this week at a news conference at MTSU’s James Union Building.
BERC Director Murat Arik noted that almost half of the counties covered in the survey are considered to be “economically distressed” and have unemployment rates at least 1 percentage point above the national average. One in four adults in those counties have less than a high school education, he said.
The roughly 90-minute survey will capture data such as business demographics, pay practices and employee benefits. BERC will also create “occupational templates” for three sub-regions that contain information such as how many people are employed in a particular area and address issues such as difficulty filling open positions.
“It’s a very big deal for the companies and the people involved in the process,” said Arik, who expects the survey to be completed by March 2018.
Robert Bibb, executive director of MTIDA, said the goal is to conduct such a survey every two years.
“Economic development is a totally different ball game from what it used to be 20 years ago,” said Bibb said. “Now, economic development is all about partnerships and without partnerships there’s no way we could be doing the things we’re doing for the entire region.”
Harriet Cannon, acting state director for USDA Rural Development, said an overall goal of the study is to “level the playing field” by attracting more industry to these rural areas that offer competitive wages, which in turn should lessen the need for rural residents to commute into the metro areas to make a living.
“It’s our mission to emphasize the importance of supporting rural economic development by providing funds for conducting surveys, technical assistance, training and other job-creation activities,” Cannon said. “The results of this study will allow MTIDA as well as local economic development organizations to have an increased knowledge of the region which will allow them to better recruit new investments.”
USDA Rural Development invests in rural America with housing, business and infrastructure loans and grants “to create jobs and strengthen rural economies with an emphasis to assist areas of persistent poverty.”
David Urban, dean of MTSU’s Jones College of Business, said the research conducted by BERC helps fulfill Jones College’s business education accreditation requirement to consistently demonstrate engagement, innovation and impact. The wage and salary survey “hits all of those buttons,” he said, “… and is a way we can provide some of the intellectual capital and research horsepower to have an impact on the broader community.”
Other partners for the project include the Upper Cumberland Development District, South Central Tennessee Development District, Greater Nashville Regional Council, Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Highlands Economic Partnership and the Tennessee Central Economic Authority.