Dissertation shows small towns near big cities have lower rates of income growth than more isolated cities

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

By Tara Gomez, M.A. student in the Department of Communication Studies at UNC Charlotte


On March 14, Public Policy Ph.D. student Chuck McShane defended his dissertation titled “Economic Prosperity, Population Growth and Local Spending in America's Micropolitan Areas, 2002-2014.” Although people might expect isolated cities to have lower income growth than small towns neighboring major metropolitan areas, McShane’s study challenges this assumption. “Income growth was higher in areas more than 120 miles away from a larger metropolitan area” McShane stated.

Another interesting finding from McShane’s research was that manufacturing employment in these micropolitan areas increased while overall manufacturing employment growth declined. McShane commented, “This calls for more fine-grained research into specific types of manufacturing growth and how manufacturing can still drive regional economic growth, even in a time of industrialization.”

When asked what advice he would give to students preparing to write a dissertation, McShane stated: “I think the key is finding a balance between finding a broad topic you're interested in enough to sustain a long project and finding a specific-enough question to test hypotheses. Also, get clear on your post-graduation goals.”

McShane currently leads the research division of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. Much of his research experience has been applied to his professional development and has contributed to his understanding of the diversity and core of micropolitan communities. “Understanding the unique dynamics in play in micropolitan communities and how that might differ from metropolitan and their neighboring suburbs helps me put the challenges and successes of our outlying counties in comparative perspective,” added McShane.

McShane’s advisor is Dr. Bill Graves, who serves as an Associate Professor in the Public Policy Program and the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences. “Chuck has made a substantial contribution to his field, since this will add a much-needed new dimension to future research on urban growth and clustering.”

This research lends itself to multiple levels of analysis of economic changes in smaller towns. “He levered these abilities to translate a huge amount of statistical findings into a compelling project. More importantly, he was also able to effectively unpack his results to connect specific events at individual places to his findings,” stated Dr. Graves.




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