What is your field of research?

My research spans several disciplines, but mostly concerns the development of rural-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). I have a particular interest in the food and drink industry, and I have published research on the internationalisation of food and drink SMEs, regional branding related to food, and opportunities for farm diversification. I am currently involved in a HEFCW-funded project with colleagues in the School of Management investigating best practice in regional development.

Dr Robert Bowen

How did you become interested in the field?

Growing up in Carmarthenshire, I have always been aware of the rural economy and the issues that rural businesses face, especially in agriculture and food production. I became interested in researching growth among food and drink SMEs while living in Nantes, France, and observing the emergence of Welsh food products being sold locally. This influenced the topic of my Master’s dissertation, which looked at the internationalisation of Welsh food and drink SMEs, which I later built upon in my PhD research, comparing Wales and Brittany.

How did you come to work at Swansea University?

I joined Swansea University in September 2017 after 3 years as a lecturer in the School of Management and Business at Aberystwyth University, where I was responsible for the creation and development of the Welsh language programme in Business. I joined Swansea to work more closely with researchers in my area of interest, particularly in place-based research. Since joining Swansea, I have also taught on modules that relate to my research and developed opportunities for students to study through the medium of Welsh.

What do you hope to achieve with your research?

As my research has been influenced by observations of the situation of small rural businesses in Wales, I aim to develop impactful research that would have both practical and policy implications for the rural economy. As with many researchers, I hope that I can influence positive changes to rural SMEs through engagement with policymakers. 

To date, I have been fortunate to develop impactful research as I have been invited to present findings on SME internationalisation to the European Commission in Brussels, and I have co-authored a report on the impact of Brexit on rural Wales that was launched at the House of Lords. Most significantly, I was invited to give evidence to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs committee at the Welsh Senedd, which was part of a consultation process for the development of the upcoming Welsh food and drink industry strategy.

What practical applications could your research have?

In addition to the policy implications, such as the development of a new food and drink strategy for Wales, practical applications of my research can be seen in raising awareness of key issues that impact on rural businesses. This includes drawing attention to the effect of poor broadband infrastructure on rural agri-businesses in Wales, as discussed in an article on the BBC News website, or more recent collaborative research work with colleagues in Swansea, and partners in Sweden and the USA, in identifying and sharing best practice in regional development.

What is next for your research?

I am currently involved in two main projects, which occupy the main focus of my research at present. These are a collaborative study looking at best practice in approaches to regional development, and exploratory research investigating how rural areas are encapsulated in city regions policy in the UK. Through these projects I aim to draw more attention to rural business issues, especially with SMEs, and I am a founding member of the Wales Rural Research network, involving researchers from various institutions across the UK, aimed at promoting research on rural matters in Wales.

Find out more about Dr Bowen