Community Wealth Blog

A recent article in Atlantic Cities by Richard Florida, titled "Where 'Eds and Meds' Industries Could Become a Liability," has caused a bit of a stir. The article warns that relying on anchor institutions such as local universities and hospitals (also known as “eds and meds”) for economic development is chancy. 

On November 5th, residents of Boulder, Colorado went to the polls to decide whether or not the city should continue on its path towards a locally controlled public utility devoted to expanding renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions. At issue was ballot question 310, an initiative backed by the existing corporate provider Xcel Energy that would have crippled the city’s municipalization efforts by placing severe debt and other restrictions on the process.

A few weeks ago, Oberlin College, with an endowment of nearly $700 million, adopted what is likely the largest impact-investing platform to date by a college or university in the United States. Although Oberlin is just one institution, the decision provides a hopeful sign of an accelerating institutional shift toward greater socially responsible investment practices. A tremendous opportunity exists. Higher education as a sector controls more than $400 billion in endowment assets.

There's a groundswell of activity among labor unions exploring worker cooperatives as a way to create and preserve jobs, and one of the most exciting efforts in this growing movement is the development of the "union co-op model."

America’s colleges and universities are at a crossroads. For all too many students, a college education has become a major economic gamble. Over the past three decades, inflation-adjusted tuition has more than doubled at both public and private universities. Meanwhile, professors are harder to find: tenured and tenure-track professors have gone from roughly 45 percent of all teaching staff to less than a quarter since 1975. In short, students and their parents pay much more for much less faculty time. 

Our executive director Ted Howard outlined the Anchor Dashboard project for Baltimore's WYPR (listen to the conversation here), spoke to Next City about how comprehensive metrics help produce anchor-led economic development that doesn't result in the unintended effects of gentrification and displacement.

Five years after the financial crisis economic inequality in the United States is spiraling to levels not seen since the Gilded Age. While most Americans are experiencing a recovery-less recovery, the top one per cent of earners last year claimed 19.3 per cent of household income, their largest share since 1928. Moreover, income distribution looks positively egalitarian when compared to wealth ownership.

Universities, hospitals and other “anchor institutions” wield considerable economic power in a community. The numbers are widely available, but astonishing nonetheless. Combined, hospitals and universities are responsible for more than $1 trillion of our nation’s $15 trillion economy.

Public banks and credit unions weathered the last crisis much better than private banks, benefiting the communities they served as well. And many experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before the next financial crisis hits. To weather the next one well, we need to ensure that our individual and collective resources strengthen the types of financial institutions that are democratically accountable, economically stable, mission oriented, and that are actively helping build and keep wealth locally in our communities. 

Last month, PBS NewsHour’s Business Desk featured an essay by Chris Mackin with the consulting group Ownership Associates entitled “The Alternative American Dream: Inclusive Capitalism.” Mackin uses the term “inclusive capitalism” as an ownership sharing proposition – one that is about creating a new relationship between employees and their workplace based not on a “sense” of ownership but on actual, tangible ownership. 

This week, The Democracy Collaborative is releasing a new paper to create a framework for measuring the effectiveness of university and hospital efforts to partner with and improve conditions in surrounding communities.  Our goal is to help institutions reflect and assess broadly the long-term impact of their anchor-mission activities, and particularly the extent to which they may benefit low-income children, families and communities.

Green. Local. Not-for-profit. That’s the goal in Boulder, Colorado where grassroots activists and the local nonprofit New Era Colorado Foundation have been campaigning to turn the city’s private power source into a public utility in order to more aggressively pursue renewable energy options and reduce carbon emissions.