Business and community leaders in small cites (population under 100,000) require more than a basic understanding of the health of the local economy to make decisions that guide sustainable economic development. They need research-based information that will help them better understand market potential in various sectors.  This is especially true in traditional downtown and neighborhood business districts that have experienced continued economic leakage to outlying edge locations. These commercial districts require relevant market information to guide business retention, expansion, recruitment, marketing and other efforts.

Extension is uniquely positioned to help given its connection to university resources, its objective and unbiased research, and its commitment to transformational education.  We are pleased to provide this one-stop resource for community business development that combines the research and analytical techniques developed by Extension educators throughout the North Central region. While it focuses on retail, service and other types of businesses found in small city downtowns, the techniques offered can be also be applied to the analysis of other commercial districts or entire communities.

The toolbox provides downtown development professionals, community planners, local study groups, and market research consultants with best practice techniques and technologies that can be used to conduct a market analysis for a commercial district or community.  The toolbox is designed to be used as a self-help tool to help the user: 1. understand the market; 2. analyze opportunities by business or real estate sector; and 3. put the research to work to strengthen economic activity. Not all the sections are required to complete a “comprehensive” market analysis and not all sections must necessarily be completed in the order presented in the toolbox.

The original toolbox was launched in 2003 as a joint effort of the University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX), Center for Community & Economic Development and the Wisconsin Main Street Program. The 2011 update is a result of a collaborative effort involving University of Minnesota Extension, Ohio State University Extension, and University of Wisconsin-Extension. The updated toolbox was supported with funding from the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development.

We hope you find this toolbox useful and we look forward to your feedback.  Please share with us how you have used these resources.  Let us know what worked for you and what didn’t work so well.  If you have specific questions about the content of the toolbox or ideas for other tools, please do not hesitate to contact one of the following collaborators:

The Ohio State University Extension University of Minnesota Extension University of Wisconsin-Extension

Greg Davis

Jill Clark


Ryan Pesch

Bruce Schwartau


Bill Ryan


Others Assisting in Toolbox DevelopmentThe collaborators would like to recognize others who have assisted in the development of the toolbox:

  • Todd Barman, National Main Street Center (coauthor of the initial toolbox while at the Wisconsin Main Street Program);
  • Jim Engle and JD Milburn, Wisconsin Main Street Program (content assistance and implementation of tools in Wisconsin communities);
  • Kevin Graeme, UWEX Technology Services (web design and development);
  • UWEX Center for Community & Economic Development faculty and staff including Matt Kures and Bill Pinkovitz (coauthors of the initial toolbox) as well as Laura Brown, Andy Lewis, and Greg Wise (more recent contributors); and
  • Mary Vitcenda, University of Minnesota Extension (editing).




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