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Institute of

LV Rural Studies


TRUSTEE Sub-project 'Best local practises that favour economic performance'

Production of convenience food
© industrieblick -
Industrial food processing

TRUSTEE (Towards Rural Synergies and Trade-Offs between Economic Development and Ecosystem Services), Task 3.2: Best local practises that favour economic performance

TRUSTEE is a research cooperation of partners from sixteen European countries (Germany, France, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Spain, Sweden). The partners cooperate in research on the complex relations between economic development and utilisation and management of resources in rural areas. In order to cope with the complex topic, the project applies an interdisciplinary approach. In Sub-project 3.2 we analyse with own surveys the specific problems and opportunities of selected rural labour markets in four German and French regions. Our research concentrates on the situation of firms and employees from the food processing industry. This concentration allows for a comparison of strategies and influences of external conditions. The food processing industry has been selected as a typical "rural" sector. Moreover, this industry is usually ascribed a low degree of innovativeness. We hope to contribute to the development of a more differentiated perspective, which allows for the recognition of incremental and organisational innovations as well. Thereby we hope to contribute to the assessment of strategies of firms that do not belong to high-tech industries. The Federal Ministry for Education and Research finances the analyses of the Thünen-Institute in the German regions.

Background and Objective

We want to contribute to an answer to the question how strongly local labour market conditions and institutions affect options and activities of firms and employees. Therefore, we analyse local labour market institutions and strategies of engaged organisations and people with a specific focus on firms. Questions we address are: How strongly does Human resource management reflect local frame conditions? How do employees behave? How do these aspects impact upon the further development of firms and the economy? In order to answer these questions, we identify and compare human resource strategies of firms and other local agencies. Furthermore, we analyse how different strategies affect the development of firms and specifically firms' innovativeness. Against this background we discuss possibilities and limits of a transfer of strategies between regions and firms.


We apply a case study approach, i.e., the research question is analysed exemplarily and comprehensively in selected regions. We concentrate on firms and employees from the food processing industry and on labour market regions with a high relevance and positive development of the food processing industry. From the four regions, two are located in France and two in Germany. In each country we select one central and one rather rural labour market region. Within each region we identify and classify the institutions of the labour market and food processing firms according to observable characteristics. As strategies of different firm-types are being compared within the selected regions, we derive a reasonable number of dimensions for comparison despite of the restricted number of regions.

Data and Methods

Case study regions have been identified with the aid of a statistical analysis. In a shift-share analysis we selected regions with a relatively high relevance of the food processing industry and a positive development of the number of employees in the sector in the last years. The analysis of regional data from public statistics also serves the further characterisation and assessment of selected regions. In intensive internet based analysis of web-pages and documents we collect additional qualitative data for further characterisations of regions, institutions and firms. This step primarily serves the preparation of further surveys. Nevertheless, in many cases firms' and other institutions' web sites allow for a first rough identification and classification of strategies on labour markets, in human resource management and in market positioning. Within the regions, the survey starts out with a workshop for local economic agents. The workshop serves the information of local agents about the project. External speakers deliver inputs concerning the relevance of internal labour management and the role of different labour market institutions. There will also be room for exchange on participants’ own experiences with the presented and other approaches and strategies. The study's main data source are own, semi-standardised surveys. On the one hand, there are surveys on strategies and options for management and employees of local firms from the food industry. On the other hand, strategies and experiences of agents from other labour market institutions are collected in intensive interviews. Among these agents are public and private educational institutions as well as administrative units of districts and communities, labour agencies, chambers of commerce, labour unions and other service providers, networks and associations.


On the firm-level we analysed determinants of innovation and their relation with internal and external labour markets. We can show that it is not sufficient to differentiate between innovators and non-innovators but that specifically small and large firms rather differ in their type of innovation. Small firms are characterised by "unplanned innovation" large  firms by "planned innovation". Planned innovation according to our results shows a stronger dependence on local conditions than unplanned innovation activities, while unplanned innovation depends more on firms' own Human resource management (HRM) strategies, indicated for example by routines for employee involvement. Inter-firm mobility is of specific relevance among external conditions.

In our quantitative analysis of Jobcenter strategies we were able to show that these public labour market agencies pursue different strategies, that are conditioned by the local environment, by the units' internal organization and by the intrinsic orientation of human agents. We measured autonomy in decision making by the ability to counteract external determinants. Decision making autonomy depends on institutional discretion as well as on available resources.

These results can largely be confirmed by the qualitative research in workshops and interviews with players from further education. Specifically we find that in Germany labour market agencies are specifically important in the determination and coordination of demand and supply in the area of further education. In France, this coordination is much more institutionalised. In the remaining project time, we plan to identify the consequences of these institutional differences.

Former Thünen-Partners

  • Lilje, Alena - she worked in this research project until 01-Oct-2015.

Involved external Thünen-Partners

  • Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement (INRAE)
    (Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier, Avignon, Ivry-sur-Seine, Clermont-Ferrand, Rennes, Thiverval-Grignon, Dijon, Orleans, Bordeaux, Frankreich)

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
    (national, öffentlich)


10.2013 - 2.2017

More Information

Funding program: EU – ERA-NET RURAGRI
Project status: finished

Publications to the project

  1. 0

    Margarian A (2021) The hidden strength of rural enterprises: Why peripheries can be more than a city centre’s deficient complements. In: Leick B, Gretzinger S, Makkonen T (eds) The rural enterprise economy. London; New York: Routledge

  2. 1

    Pollermann K, Raue P (2020) Relations between local institutional settings and governance arrangements in LEADER: looking for differences in different national and federal state related contexts. Rural Areas Issues Local Regional Dev 6:231-248

  3. 2

    Margarian A, Lankau M (2018) Anpassungs- und Gestaltungsfähigkeit regionaler Systeme beruflicher Weiterbildung : eine institutionenökonomische Analyse. Z Weiterbildungsforsch 41(1):7-26, DOI:10.1007/s40955-018-0103-y

  4. 3

    Margarian A (2018) Innere Werte und schöner Schein: Strategien im Wettbewerb um Arbeitskräfte in einer klein-strukturierten Branche. ZfKE 66(4):223-249

  5. 4

    Margarian A (2017) Strategien kleiner und mittlerer Betriebe in angespannten Arbeitsmarktlagen : eine Untersuchung am Beispiel der niedersächsischen Ernährungswirtschaft. Braunschweig: Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut, 168 p, Thünen Rep 55, DOI:10.3220/REP1513586675000

  6. 5

    Raue P, Pollermann K, Schnaut G (2017) The interdependence between local institutional settings and governance arrangements in LEADER. In: Heindl A-B, Steinführer A, Fick J, Breeck I, Kohring J, Küpper P, Neumeier S (eds) "New rural geographies in Europe: actors, processes, policies" : European Rural Geographies Conference ; June 14-17, 2017 ; Braunschweig, Germany ; Book of Abstracts. Braunschweig: Thünen-Institut, pp 106-107

  7. 6

    Margarian A (2014) One bird in the hand...: the local organization of surveys and qualitative data [online]. Forum Qual Sozialforsch 15(3):Art. 13, zu finden in <> [zitiert am 29.08.2014]

  8. 7

    Margarian A (2014) Regionales Engagement als unternehmerische Herausforderung : das Beispiel des regionalen Fachkräftemangels im ländlichen Entwicklungsprozess. Ber Geogr Landeskunde 88(2):185-202

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