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Project information

Project team

Lukas Vonnahme, Martin Graffenberger, Thilo Lang, Franziska Görmar



Duration of project

10/2017 – 06/2019

Funded by

Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR)

Further information

Lukas Vonnahme

Franziska Görmar

Hidden Champions – Stabilisation and development factors of small towns in peripheral regions

Small towns are central elements of the urban hierarchy in Germany and hold a key position for balanced spatial development. Compared to other types of cities in more central locations, especially small towns in peripheral regions are frequently exposed to socio-economic challenges such as structural weakness and adverse demographic change processes. Nevertheless, a substantial number of successful and innovative companies – so-called Hidden Champions – are located in such small towns. Against this background, the research project investigated the function of Hidden Champions for on-going and future development of peripherally located small towns and illustrated to what extent these companies are engaged in local and urban development processes.

Using quantitative approaches, the economic potential of small towns as well as the determining characteristics of Hidden Champions were analysed. Based on these analyses qualitative case studies were selected. The aim of these case studies was to examine the corporate regional engagement of Hidden Champions in small town development processes and to draw attention to related motivations, potentials and barriers. Besides Hidden Champions, the case studies focused on further relevant actors in the field of small town development (local administration, civil society etc.). For more details on the results, please see the German project page

The study was commissioned by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) in the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR). The project connected to previous and on-going IfL research on alternative perspectives on regional development in peripheral regions and research on world market leaders. An additional basis was BBSR research on the potentials of small towns in peripheral regions as well as on the state and future of centrally located small towns.



Within the project, IfL and BBSR organised three workshops where researchers, business men and urban development experts discussed the state of research on innovative enterprises and their role in small town development as well as on cooperative urban development. Further on, the workshops served to identify research gaps and discuss the results of the project. The results are available via the BBSR website (only in German).

More information is also available on the IfL blog and on the BBSR website


Lang, Thilo / Vonnahme, Lukas (2020): Hidden Champions in ländlichen Räumen – zur Bedeutung mittelständischer Unternehmen für Kleinstädte in peripheren Lagen. In: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Ed.): Land in Sicht: ländliche Räume in Deutschland zwischen Prosperität und Peripherisierung. Bonn:, p. 214–227

Graffenberger, Martin / Görmar, Franziska (2021): Family Firms and Corporate Responsibility in Peripheral Regions. In: Basco, Rodrigo / Stough, Roger / Suwala, Lech (Ed.): Family Business and Regional Development. Routledge. Open Access

Lang, Thilo / Görmar, Franziska / Graffenberger, Martin / Vonnahme, Lukas / Porsche, Lars (Mitwirkende/-r) (2019): Hidden Champions und Stadtentwicklung: Die wirtschaftliche und gesellschaftliche Bedeutung innovativer Unternehmen für Kleinstädte in peripherer Lage. Bonn, Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung. 63 Seiten.

Graffenberger Martin (2019): Großstadt top! Kleinstadt Flop? Zur Zentrumsfixierung in gängigen Innovationsdebatten. In: Unternehmen Region 1/2019, p. 38–40. Full text

Graffenberger, Martin / Vonnahme, Lukas / Brachert, Matthias / Lang, Thilo (2019): Broadening perspectives: innovation outside of agglomerations. In: Innovation-based regional change in Europe: chances, risks and policy implications. Stuttgart: Fraunhofer Verlag, p. 47–68. Full text

Vonnahme, Lukas / Graffenberger, Martin / Görmar, Franziska / Lang, Thilo (2018): Kaum beachtet, gemeinsam stark – Versteckte Potenziale von Kleinstädten mit Hidden Champions. In: Informationen zur Raumentwicklung 6/2018, p. 38–49.