The Regional Research Institute (RRI) sponsors programs and activities that advance our knowledge of processes of regional socio-economic change, with an emphasis on lagging regions. Ours are global interests, but we especially encourage research relevant to West Virginia and Appalachia.

The Regional Research Institute will provide up to two Seed Grants each Academic Year to WVU faculty with interests in any aspect of regional development research and analysis, including but not limited to studies of economy, resources, industry, socio-economic welfare, energy, and human-environment interaction. Funded projects must be consistent with the RRI mission and strong potential for future external funding. Research can be locally focused but must have broader implications for regional development. Each award will support a 9-month graduate research assistant at RRI funding levels for the academic year and $1,000 for reference materials, conference travel, or other seed grant project support. Awardees become RRI Faculty Research Associates (FRA), joining more than thirty other WVU faculty with regional research interests. Current RRI FRAs are also eligible and encouraged to apply. Proposals will be reviewed internally and externally at the discretion of the Director.


Awardees agree to produce:

  • A proposal for external funding building on the seed grant research, administered by the RRI, and submitted with sufficient time for RRI critique prior to Office of Sponsored Programs and funding agency deadlines.
  • A presentation in the RRI Seminar Series during the Academic Year in which the grant was completed.
  • Acknowledgement of RRI support on all publications resulting from the project.
  • A one-page final report.

Required Proposal Elements

  • Research problem statement – what, why, and how (strict 5 page limit, excluding references cited but including narrative, tables, charts, etc., single spacing, 12 pt. Type, standard margins).
  • Potential funding agency target and programs.
  • Bio sketch, including up to 5 publications most strongly related to the proposed project, up to 5 most significant other publications, and results for any prior RRI funding within the past 5 years (2 pages maximum – see guidelines for NSF proposal bios).
  • Letter of support from department chair, including acknowledgment of and agreement to the seed grant terms, and Dean’s signature.
  • How the seed grant will be used to enhance the competitiveness of subsequent external research proposals.

Seed Grant awardees are encouraged to contribute to the RRI’s working paper series.The deadline for applications falls within the first week of each February. Proposals and biographical sketches must be submitted electronically. Award decisions are normally announced at the beginning of April. Submit proposal materials to:

Seed Grant Program
Regional Research Institute
P.O. Box 6825


The Effect of Alcohol Retail Distribution and Taxes on Newborn Infant Health: Long-Term Consequences for Regional Development

Researcher: Tami Gurley-Calvez, Assistant Professor, Bureau of Business & Economic Research

Future regional economic growth and health and welfare expenditures are tied to current birth outcomes. A large literature has established a link between infant health outcomes and future health, labor market, and education outcomes. Although some causes of poor infant health, such as natural disasters and shocks to the mother’s health cannot be addressed to a significant degree by public policy, alcohol use can be addressed in a variety of ways including licensing and regulation of retailers, taxes, and minimum drinking age laws. The proposed research will establish the foundation for evaluating the effects of retail distribution and tax policy on infant health. The long-term goal of this research is to improve regional labor, education, and health outcomes by identifying policy factors that enhance infant health. Identifying policy options is particularly relevant in West Virginia, which has some of the highest rates of public assistance, lowest rates of labor force participation and educational attainment and worst health outcomes. The problem of alcohol abuse is a serious health issue in West Virginia.

Sustainable Development Planning in Energy Rich Regions: Estimating Regional Capital Assets Using Remote Sensing and GIS

Researchers: Hodjat Ghadimi, Research Associate, Regional Research Institute and Assistant Professor, Design & Landscape Architecture; Trevor Harris and Tim Warner,Professors of Geology & Geography

This research outlines a general framework for understanding and planning for sustainable development in energy rich regions (ERRs). The innovative methodology draws heavily on the powerful data generation, data handling, and spatial analytical modeling of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) to estimate total capital stock. The analytic framework is based on the “constancy of total capital stock” and focuses on generating a unique comprehensive regional knowledge base of ERRs. Importantly for subsequent research grant funding opportunities this approach is extensible and can be used in the analysis of sustainable regional development issues in multiple regions.


Linking Tourism Resources and Local Economic Development: A Spatial Analysis in West Virginia

Researchers: Jinyang Deng, Assistant Professor, Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources Program and David Dyre, GRA

(This seed grant was awarded ARC funding in September 2009 of $248,150)
Working Paper
Final Report

In recent decades, tourism has been playing an increasingly significant role in promoting rural economic development and diversification in West Virginia. Speaking of Ogleby Resort in Wheeling in October 2007 as an inspiration for tourism development throughout the state, Governor Manchin stressed that “state politicians need to think beyond their next elections and have a vision that includes tourism promotion.” As far as “tourism promotion” is concerned, questions such as what, where, and how tourism should be promoted to be maximally profitable still remain largely un-addressed in the state. Current practices in the state require more efforts be put on regional collaboration in tourism planning and development. Regional collaboration can refer to collaboration within a region and between regions. The question then arises as to if such a region should be defined based on the current nine economic development regions or based on tourism resource distribution patterns which may cut across county and economic development region boundaries. To answer this question, it is necessary to spatially examine the linkage between tourism resource distributions and associated economic benefits throughout the state, because tourism promotion and resulting economic benefits depend on tourism resources and how these tourism resources are utilized. Such spatial analysis would allow for determining if several tourism resource distribution regions or tourism zones can be spatially identified and if these tourism zones overlap with the current economic development regions. If the answer is no, then current financial capital allocation based on administrative boundaries should be re-distributed according to the tourism resource distribution regions to maximize coordinated efforts for the state’s tourism planning, promotion and development. To this end, this project aims to develop a statewide GIS tourism resource database and analyze the spatial clustering of tourism resources in the state in relation to the spatial distribution of tourism economic benefits. The results of this project will provide useful information needed for decision makers to rationally allocate limited financial capitals to tourism zones to maximize the output of tourism promotion and development. In addition, the identification of tourism zones from this project will provide a scientific base for regional collaboration for the state’s tourism promotion and development.


Proximity to Coal Mining and Health

Researchers: Michael Hendryx, Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine and Kathryn O’Donnell, GRA

Working Paper
Final Report

Coal mining is an important economic factor for West Virginia and Appalachia. However, limited research has been conducted in this geographic region on the possible health risks from exposure to mining byproducts for people who live in the proximity of the mining sites. The research proposed in this application will advance scientific understanding of the possible health consequences of living in proximity to mining, and will lay the foundation for extramural grant applications to study this issue with more definitive and sophisticated methods. Specifically, this research will test hypotheses stating that, after statistical adjustments for social and economic confounds, population hospitalizations and mortality rates for health conditions that are sensitive to exposure to coal mining byproducts will be elevated as a function of the amount of coal mined in Appalachian counties, while hospitalizations and mortality rates for other health conditions will not be elevated. A line of research initiated by the Principal Investigator has identified a link between the intensity of coal mining and greater adjusted prevalence of some chronic illnesses, and between coal mining and adjusted hospitalization patterns for hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The current proposal seeks to extend this research by using grant funds to support database development to broaden the geographic and temporal scope of the work, refine and extend covariates and dependent variables, and conduct additional analytic tests, in preparation for extramural grant applications.

West Virginia / Central Appalachian Land Use Status and Trends Project
Researchers: Charles Yuill, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning and
Vishakha Maskey, GRA

Final Report

This proposal briefly describes a pilot research project that could be completed to initiate/prove the concept for a larger statewide/regional land use mapping, monitoring and future land use modeling project. The proposed Pilot Study addresses a number of methodological and analytical issues that should provide significant opportunities for additional research and collaboration efforts. The pilot should provide a research base from which larger area / more complex efforts may be initiated. A variety of statewide, as well as regional organizations, research entities, and Federal agencies are addressing issues in the Central Appalachians for which land use / land cover monitoring and modeling are critical. In addition to the above discussed potential uses of such research findings, other potential research users include:

Regional conservation organizations;
Regional economic development organizations;
Utilities such as PJM Interconnect using such projections for long range electricity planning and load forecasting; and
Infrastructure and homeland security planners


Institutional Factors in Regional Economic Growth: An Austrian Model

Researchers: Odd J. Stalebrink, Professor in the Division of Public Administration and Sam Wilkinson, GRA

Final Report

This project proposes to develop and test a framework founded on the main tenets of the Austrian economic tradition to explain differences in regional economic growth. The proposed framework gives explicit recognition to both time and space. The spatial dimension is accounted for via recognition of regional differences in the relative strength (or functioning) of several institutions that, according to the Austrian framework, are considered to be key determinants of economic growth. The most important institutions, in this regard, include private property rights, freedom of association and monies (Rothbard 1997). These institutions are important determinants of economic activity, according to the Austrian tradition, because they drive the actions of the “ultimate source of economic activity” – the entrepreneur (von Mises 1996). The time dimension is accounted for via recognition of the relationship between the above institutions and the rate of economic progress. The Austrian tradition provides a rich body of literature (see, (Hayek 1948a,Hayek 1935,Hayek 1948b)) that attributes the rate of economic progress to (a) the pace of entrepreneurial discovery of new knowledge and (b) the ability of an economy to distribute knowledge across an economy. The discovery procedure is described in terms of discovery and exploitation of previously unrecognized profit opportunities (Kirzner 1973). Institutions of private property and freedom of association are crucial in determining the pace of this discovery and the price systems allows for the dispersion of the knowledge across the economy. The research objectives of this project are to: ” Produce valid and reliable measures of differences in the relative strength of institutions of property rights, freedom of association and monies in regions and their influence on regional economic output. ” Test key hypotheses about the relationship between the relative strength of the above institutions and characteristics associated with entrepreneurial action. ” Draw inferences about spatial determinants of economic growth in order to provide insight to regional economic policy making.

An Analysis of the Impact of Knowledge-Based Activities in Rural Economics

Researcher: Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Rural America has undergone profound changes and significant economic transformations over the past three decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, the availability of low-cost, unskilled labor attract and manufacturing businesses from urban to rural areas. The structural changes in the U.S. economy seemed to have resulted in an apparent decline in rural poverty due to growth and economic vitality brought about by increased employment. In West Virginia, it created a favorable business climate, particularly for resource-dependent industries that relied on low or unskilled laborers. However, starting in the 1980s and particularly as we approach the beginning of the 21st century, global competition and a structural shift in the industrial sector towards more flexibility and knowledge-intensive production has increased the demand for skilled labor force. At the same time, the explosive growth in high technology and service industries requiring skilled workers left rural areas at a comparative disadvantage. Knowledge has become a prerequisite for economic growth in the 21st century. Traditionally, economic growth was based on physical resources and the products they yielded. Today, knowledge fuels the economy by generating new ideas and innovations that boost productivity and creates new products and services, firms, jobs, and opportunities. In short, knowledge-based growth is derived from people’s knowledge or ability to combine education, experience, and ingenuity to power the economy. Places with larger concentrations of high-skill labor are more attractive to knowledge-based firms. Moreover, people with high-skill levels are more likely to generate new innovations and start knowledge-based firms. For instance, in the United States, knowledge-based industries are pacing economic growth. In rural America, as elsewhere, a variety of factors make knowledge-based growth possible: the availability of high-skill labor, college and the presence of universities, vibrant business networks, and the quality of the infrastructure. Previous studies have indicated that some rural communities are already leveraging these assets to transform their economy. Rural counties with higher concentrations of high-skill labor were found to have higher concentrations of high-knowledge occupations. Many other rural places, however, have yet to tap the economic potential of knowledge-based occupations.It has long been recognized that developing the human resources of a society is an integral part of any sustainable economic development strategy. However, relatively few studies have examined the impacts of knowledge-based activities on rural economies. In today’s global and regional economy generally businesses need skilled labor force to keep pace with domestic and foreign competitors. The primary objective of this study is, therefore, to examine and determine the impact of knowledge-based activities upon rural economic growth.


Nursing Home Quality of Care in Appalachia

Researchers: Mary Carter and Shu Hui Wang, GRA

Working Paper
Final Report

Approximately one in twelve nursing home (NH) residents in the United States resides in Appalachia. Although Appalachia, comprised of 410 counties across 13 states, has an older population, spends a greater proportion of Medicaid dollars for long-term care and has a higher proportion of older adults with disabling and chronic conditions in comparison with the nation as a whole, studies exploring quality of Appalachian NHs are lacking. However, because of the lack of alternative long-term care services in rural/remote communities, out-migration of younger populations and higher poverty rates, Appalachian elders may rely more heavily on NH care. Moreover, NH quality in Appalachia may be compromised by the higher concentration of certain structural and organizational attributes that tend to be found in rural/economically disadvantaged areas, e.g., high Medicaid census rates, for-profit operating status. In response, this study proposes to use nationally representative data from the On-Line Survey Certification of Automated Records, years 2000 to 2003, to examine whether NHs located in Appalachia differ in the quality of care provided to residents. Multivariate methods are proposed to examine the effect of Appalachian location on a facility’s receipt of deficiency citations, after controlling for differences in facility organizational and operational characteristics.

U.S. Organic Regional Clusters: A National Study

Researchers: Cheryl Brown, Agricultural and Resource Economics and Daniel Eades, GRA

Working Paper
Final Report

The social, environmental, and economic costs of the nation’s current agricultural production and distribution system have led to the exploration of new and alternative models of production and consumption that work to strengthen the economic and social returns of both producers and consumers. Policy makers have identified organic agriculture as a way to preserve and enhance the natural environment, as well as provide benefits to producers and consumers, passing the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990 and establishing the National Organic Program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop standards governing the marketing of products labeled “organic.” Growers who market their produce under the USDA organic label are likely to receive price premiums, and recent estimates show rapid growth in the industry over the last decade. A review of recent literature has shown that organic producers and certified organic farmland are concentrated in certain regions of the U.S. However, trends in growth are not uniform across the nation and in some areas have decreased, suggesting that organic farms in certain areas may be enjoying agglomeration economies-based increases in production. This research analyzes the spatial nature of the organic industry to determine if clustering does exist, and if so what drives the clustering. By determining the areas best suited for the adoption of organic production, policy makers will be better able to target programs and spending that maximize economic, social, and environmental rewards for all parties.


Environmental Changes Caused by Beaver and Deer in Canaan Valley, West Virginia

Researchers: James Anderson and Kelley Flaherty, GRA

A pilot study will be conducted to identify rare plant communities and changes in communities based on aerial photos from 1945, 1997, and 2003. Rare plant communities associated with beaver ponds and potential beaver pond areas will be identified in the field. Moreover, all existing data on deer and beaver populations and distribution will be compiled, synthesized, and analyzed for trends. The project will detail methods using a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) approach to analyze aerial photos, beaver/deer population densities and movements, and plant community distribution and abundance, including rare plant communities. Data will be used to develop a GIS model that will be used to predict “biodiversity hotspots” and areas likely to be impacted to beaver or deer. This model can be used by managers in Canaan Valley and throughout the mid-Appalachian Region to predict where conflicts between these species and rare plant communities may arise, and allow managers to focus management efforts in these spots.

Factors Influencing Venture Capital Availability in West Virginia

Researchers: David W. Hughes (former RRI/FRA), and Mihaela A. Szabo, GRA

Final Report

Venture capital has been identified by many as a vital element in the rapid economic growth of selected regions in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world. At the same time, many have identified the lack of access to capital, especially equity capital, as a major constraint to the economic growth of more rural areas such as West Virginia. For regional scientists, the current state of venture capital access constitutes a centripetal force (i.e., it tends to concentrate rather than disperse economic activity) for so-called urban-core rural-periphery economic structures. Researchers have identified a focus on primarily urban sectors, such as telecommunications, higher administration costs due to a lack of deal flow, and a limited support network for entrepreneurs as the possible reasons for the lack of venture capital in rural areas. Yet, venture capitalist firms, some of which are subsidized by state and local governments, are starting to develop interest in investing in businesses located in rural areas and smaller metropolitan communities. This research project explores several issues surrounding the expectations of venture capitalist interested in less developed areas. Do venture capital firms expect a lower rate of return in more rural areas? What are their expectations concerning investing in more rural sectors such tourism and agriculture? Does venture capital have a spatial element, with venture capital investment diffusing out of urban centers into nearby rural communities? In cooperation with a West Virginia venture capital firm, this set of issues will be examined through a survey instrument.


Apportionment Formula and Strategic Competition

Researchers: Santiago M. Pinto and Yousam Choi, GRA

Final Report

The project develops an analytical framework where regional governments strategically determine the structure of the corporate profit tax system and profits are regionally allocated using an apportionment formula. Two important results emerge in a symmetric Nash equilibrium: (i) investment decisions are distorted, i.e., regional governments will not allow complete deduction of capital costs from taxable corporate profits; and (ii) there is underprovision of the good provided by the regional government, consistent with the literature on property tax competition. The degree of underprovision may be less severe when the formula employs sales shares to apportion corporate profits. The model allows us to presume that the recent shift by most states in the U.S. towards a formula apportionment that gives a higher weight to the sales proportion may constitute a welfare improvement for all regions, compared to the original formula that weighs all factors equally.

Location-Specific Amenities, Equilibrium, and Constraints on Location Choices

Researchers: Brian Cushing and Kerry King, GRA

Final Report

This research will consider how preferences for location-specific attributes might constrain migration choices. In particular, it, at any given time, most people are consuming their desired location-specific attributes, then unwillingness to give up these attributes may greatly influence the decision to migrate. For those who migrate, these desired attributes might significantly constrain the locations they would consider. This perspective differs substantially from the normal approach that assumes people move toward “good attributes” and away from “bad attributes.” The research will consider recent intermetropolitan migration flows as well as historical interstate migration flows. The research will provide an pintail test of this “constrained migration” hypothesis and lay the groundwork for several interesting applications, including differential effects by characteristics such as poverty, age, and race. Support for the hypothesis at the aggregate level would also lead to future, more complex microdata analyses.