Creating an Entrepreneurial Appalachian Region: Findings and Lessons from an Evaluation of the ARC’s Entrepreneurship Initiative 1997-2005

From 1997 through 2005, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) invested nearly $43 million in a ground-breaking program to stimulate and support entrepreneurship across Appalachia. The Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI) was the first large scale attempt to give greater focus to homegrown business development as a regional economic development strategy.

The Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, EntreWorks Consulting, and RTI were commissioned by ARC in 2006 to conduct an evaluation of EI in terms both of outcomes achieved by a sample of funded projects and of broader policy impacts across the region. The evaluation team undertook literature reviews, reviewed project files for a sample of 114 projects, conducted phone interviews with 36 stakeholders and experts, developed a metrics framework, completed interviews with project staff associated with 88 projects, made four site visits, and conducted a meta-analysis of the outcomes and impacts. The team’s work was informed by a three-person advisory committee of leading academic experts on entrepreneurship – Dr. Thomas Lyons, Dr. Edward Malecki, and Dr. Jonathan Potter.