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Fellowship supports research into rural businesses

lane perry

Lane Perry

By Chaz Lilly

Small towns and businesses face unique challenges when it comes to building and sustaining economic growth. That’s why Western Carolina University faculty member Lane Perry is working to understand the nuances of successful entrepreneurship in rural communities.

To aid his research, Perry, assistant professor in the College of Business, was chosen by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship as a Rural Entrepreneurship Research Fellow for 2023-2024.

USASBE helps small businesses evolve and develop, and is an inclusive community that advances entrepreneurship education through teaching, scholarship and practice. The fellowship aims to bring academics from different disciplines together to increase awareness around rural entrepreneurship and small business resiliency.

“Lane has worked diligently to integrate his passion for entrepreneurship and small business resiliency into his teaching and research agenda at WCU,” said Charlie Parrish, school director for marketing, entrepreneurship, sport management, and hospitality and tourism. “This fellowship will provide him with an opportunity to make a significant and lasting impact on communities across Western North Carolina through consulting with local small businesses and by equipping our entrepreneurship students with the necessary skills and knowledge they’ll need to thrive in a rural economy.”

Three fellows were chosen in 2023 and are eligible to re-apply for renewal for up to one additional year. Perry is currently working with the other fellows on a vein of research focused on “institutional voids” in rural areas with respect to entrepreneurial development.

“There’s a general lack of support for rural entrepreneurs, and there must be more clearly identified and connected entrepreneurial networks and intentionally supported rural-centric ecosystems,” Perry said.

A key focus of his research is understanding micro-ecosystems, like the effects of revitalizating a specific main street or city block.

“The craft brewing industry in Western North Carolina is a good example of these micro-systems,” he added. “An anchor business in the form of a brewery is opened in a specific area of a rural community and then a flurry of development begins to evolve.”

Along with three other WCU colleagues, Mariano Garrido-Lopez, Yue Hillon and Josh Downs, Perry is looking into the idea of management consulting and value creation for microenterprises, or businesses with less than nine employees. He wants to help these small businesses leverage relationships, like with local universities.

“In the U.S., microenterprises represent about 80% of all businesses. In rural areas, these businesses provide more than half of all the jobs. We are trying to understand the needs of these rural microenterprises to help support them further,” he said.

To bring a larger community of stakeholders together, Perry is helping to plan a rural entrepreneurship symposium in Burlington, Vermont, this summer.

“These symposia promote an integrated approach to better understanding entrepreneurship in rural areas and small towns. Through the convening of dozens of researchers, teachers, policy makers and entrepreneurs to generate more data-driven research, education, policy and action for those who live in small towns and rural spaces, or, in other words, most people,” he said.

With the chance to engage with nationally recognized peers and mentors dedicated to enhancing entrepreneurship in rural settings, Perry aspires to contribute to the community of Western North Carolina.

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