Maria Marshall's work focuses on the multiple risks that family farms face, both internally and externally. In one project, she focuses on internal risks to success through the process of management succession. At any given time, 40 percent of U.S. businesses are facing the issue of ownership transfer. One reason that family farms find it difficult to successfully make the generational transition is that the people involved must have a good understanding of both the business and the family. Family businesses also must work through issues mixing both business decisions and personal family decisions. The overall objective of Marshall's succession planning research project funded NIFA-AFRI is to identify the plans and processes that have been used by farm and non-farm rural family businesses to successfully make the management transition to a new generation. This work examines not only the family and the business but also the interactions that simultaneously influence the success of rural family farm and non-farm rural family businesses. Primary data for this research is being collected through 30 minute interviews with small and medium sized farm and non-farm food businesses in IN, IL, MI, and OH.
Marshall also studies the external risks to the business through the process of disaster business recovery. The process of business recovery from disasters has yet to be studied comprehensively. Understanding this process is important not only to characterize and reduce attrition post-disaster but also to determine whether private and government disaster relief policy, business owner practices, and family and community factors are leading to recovery. Research to date has narrowly focused on business characteristics and not on the interactions and interdependencies among businesses, the business owner’s family, and the community. A systems theory approach advocates considering simultaneous stressors on the business, family, and community to understand what leads to business demise or recovery. Marshall's NSF (2009-2012) and NIFA-AFRI (2011-2014) funded research uses comprehensive data on business owners and their families to assess the extent to which family considerations and owner patterns of adjustment to change impact business recovery or non-recovery. She examines disaster aid practices and policy and the role of community in business owner decisions post-disaster. Her research uses a theoretical systems framework to examine the interaction and relative importance of factors such as business and owner characteristics, challenges faced by families and businesses, family resiliency and adjustment strategies, owner risk-taking, spatial characteristics of the disaster, and infrastructure changes created by a disaster on the post-event recovery or demise of small and medium sized businesses.
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