Since 2008, students in Whitehead's classes have participated in community-based research through the university's Appalachian and Community Together Office, which links university classes with local nonprofit agencies.
Recent research subjects have included Mountain Home Music concert series, the annual 100-mile bike ride, Blood, Sweat and Gears and, most recently, the annual Valle Country Fair.
Whitehead and his students have conducted benefit cost analyses for the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy, Appalachian's Parent to Parent Support Network, High Country Local First, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and Watauga County Tourism Development Authority.
For each project, students estimate the demand for the service provided by the nonprofit agency, and then predict the impact of a price increase or a change in the characteristics of the agency's services or events.
Whitehead used data from a post-ride survey for Blood, Sweat and Gears. Beginning and ending at Valle Crucis Elementary School, the event can accommodate up to 1,760 combined participants for a 100-mile ride, a 50-mile ride, and two 20-mile rides.
Typically, the event has sold out, with the lion's share of net profits from the race donated to the American Red Cross.
Since the event is so popular, Whitehead proposed that BSG raise its entry fees based on the survey results. If participation was not hindered by the increase, the event would generate a greater profit for the designated charity.
BSG sponsors agreed to test the hypothesis and raised the registration fees from $60 to $70 in 2012.
The event sold out, with total net profits of $67,510. Of that total, BSG contributed $50,000 to the American Red Cross and the balance to volunteer fire departments, the Watauga County Sheriff's office, and other local agencies.
According to raw data collected in the Appalachian study by 2012 Appalachian graduate John Greeson, last year's event had a total estimated economic impact in excess of $1 million, compared with $900,000 in 2011.
Of course, it's up to the client whether or not to adopt the recommendations of the researchers. "There's always a good, natural tension between the philosophy of an economist and that of the non-profit agency," Whitehead said.