Communities across the country are recognizing the tremendous resources nonprofit anchor institutions (like hospitals and universities) can provide as engines of inclusive and equitable economic development. Increasingly, cities – including Mayors – are launching comprehensive and coordinated strategies to leverage their local anchors to address otherwise potentially intractable problems of unemployment and disinvestment. In 2014, several cities, including Chicago, Baltimore and New Orleans, have launched multi-anchor community building and job creation strategies, while in Cleveland a decade old collaboration of philanthropy, anchors and the municipal government continues to change the dynamic in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
Certainly there are fantastic examples of anchor institutions who have taken the lead without significant coordination or corresponding commitments from their peers. For instance, the Gundersen Lutheran system, anchored in La Crosse, Wisconsin, has done spectacular work in its initiative to green its supply chain and to rebuild the local economy. The University of Pennsylvania shifted millions of dollars of its purchasing budget to nearby West Philadelphia, without any cooperation or coordination from other local anchor institutions.
These trailblazers have helped make clear to community foundations, municipal governments, and other anchors the role that universities and hospitals can play in community economic development. The clearer this role becomes, the more possible it becomes to weave the efforts of individual anchor institutions together into a more coherent and comprehensive strategy. But as the examples below show, conveners can put the puzzle of place, policy, and anchor-driven development together in various ways. These different geographical strategies help open up a multitude of complementary possibilities for building community wealth.
Chicago: Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy
In March of 2014, World Business Chicago, a not-for-profit economic development organization chaired by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, launched Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE). The program has a clear mission: find ways to connect Chicago's anchor purchasing needs to local firms, with the goal of building a stronger and more integrated local economy. Practically, the initiative has two main parts. First, participating anchors analyze their "spend," and pool information about their procurement needs with CASE, who can use the resulting database to identify the most promising opportunities for localizing some of this procurement flow. Second, CASE works with cohorts of local businesses to build their capacity to meet the anchors' needs. They've partnered with Next Street on the business development end to help get these businesses to the stage where they can handle the large contracts that a relationship with a major anchor can bring. CASE aims to work with 100 businesses in the next year alone.
Geographically, this is a city-wide initiative, as the map above shows. The point isn't to create opportunities for building community wealth in specifically underserved communities, but to develop a generally more robust metropolitan economy by working with existing businesses. There's a logic here that makes sense from the economic development perspective. If a business can get the assistance it requires to meet the needs of one anchor, there's a possibility for significant economies of scale—that business can develop to meet the needs of anchors across the city. This narrow focus, which zeroes in on the business opportunities for anchor purchasing and the potential benefits that can be unlocked for the metropolitan economy as a whole, is both a strength and a potential weakness, as there's no specific mechanism in the CASE program for making sure that the stronger local economy it builds is a more equitable one. One could imagine building on the foundation established by CASE—perhaps with Community Benefit Agreements (CBA)-like requirements for businesses receiving technical assistance and capital referrals through the program. But fundamentally, a program structured like CASE is likely to only engage anchors along this one axis (procurement), and consequently won't be able to coordinate anchor initiatives across a more comprehensive spectrum of community wealth building strategies. Certainly, a stronger local economy is a key municipal policy goal, and CASE is an important model for cities who want to use anchors to make this kind of economic development happen. But we should also keep in mind that other, more place-based strategies can work in useful complementary ways to address the challenges faced by specific communities dealing with the legacies of disinvestment.
Cleveland: The Greater University Circle Initiative
Cleveland's Greater University Circle Initiative (GUCI) provides an instructive contrast to CASE; where CASE focuses on the whole city, GUCI focuses narrowly on place.
GUCI’s starting point is the way geography and inequality intersect on the east side of Cleveland. The map here, created by Case Western's Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, shows the spatial pattern of wealth distribution quite clearly. The colored rectangles indicate vacants, utility shut-offs, tax deliquencies, and foreclosures—the results of disinvestment and marginalization in communities where the median income is $18,500 and nearly 1 one in 4 four people are unemployed. And yet, situated within the middle of this ring of poverty and economic marginalization is University Circle: home to the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University, as well as many of the city's major landmark cultural institutions. It is an island of resources in a sea of disinvestment. These resources did not, however, flow to the surrounding neighborhoods. For instance, as of 2012, only five percentof the 60,000 University Circle employees lived in the communities nearby.
In 2005, the Cleveland Foundation—the nation's oldest community foundation—established GUCI as a way to begin thinking about the future of the east side of Cleveland in a way that no individual institution or neighborhood could do in isolation. The Initiative operates from the basic premise that University Circle and its neighbors are interconnected, and aims to both spark cross-sectoral dialogue about the future of the area, and to catalyze transformative investment. The most well-known example of this approach is probably the Evergreen Cooperatives—the first initiative of its kind to bring workforce development, community economic development, and the localization of anchor institution purchasing together into a single coordinated strategy to build democratized wealth in low-income neighborhoods. (We've been honored to have worked closely with Evergreen since its inception).
But Evergreen is only the tip of the iceberg in the Greater University Circle Initiative, which has launched a wide range of mutually reinforcing programs to undo the geography of disinvestment in its catchment area. The Initiative has spawned a major incentive program, Greater Circle Living, to encourage employees of the major anchors to reside in the adjacent neighborhoods. It has sparked numerous investments in placemaking and transit infrastructure designed to reknit the community together. Especially suggestive is the intersection of GUCI and the Health Tech Corridor (the long red area on the map at the beginning of this section). The Health Tech Corridor aims to build off a major investment in Bus Rapid Transit that connects the Circle with downtown Cleveland along Euclid Avenue (itself partially supported financially by University Circle hospitals), and develop a biotech industry cluster in the midtown section of the city, where deindustrialization has made available significant amounts of real estate. While this kind of forward-thinking urban economic planning is by itself commendable, GUCI’s presence as a spatial container focused on building community wealth has facilitated connecting this economic development work with the efforts to empower low-income communities neighboring University Circle.
Baltimore: Baltimore City Anchor Plan
The Baltimore City Anchor Plan (BCAP), launched earlier this year by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, takes a similar approach to Cleveland, focusing on particular place-based opportunities to connect anchors and communities. Here, the city, rather than a community foundation, is stepping in as a convener, and the spatial focus has been multiplied to encompass three separate clusters across the city. Baltimore’s initiative builds off of existing work by Baltimore anchor institutions. For instance, in West Baltimore, Bon Secours has been a leader in working for affordable housing and community empowerment. In and around the Charles Village/Old Goucher/Waverly neighborhoods, Johns Hopkins University's Homewood Community Partnership Initiative has already pledged $10 million of investment in community. And in Northeast Baltimore, both Morgan State University's Morgan Community Mile and Loyola University's York Road Initiative attempt to leverage anchor resources for community benefit within a targeted geography. BCAP clusters these anchor institution initiatives into anchor districts, providing a scaffold for further cooperation and coordination in specific geographic focus areas broader than the immediate area of interest of any one of the individual anchors, but smaller than the city as a whole. The action plans developed to guide the work of the anchors in each cluster include important initiatives connected to local procurement, local hiring, and public safety. Specifically exciting from our perspective as a proponent of metrics for anchor impact on communities is the inclusion of a framework for setting goals and measuring progress in the action plans for each anchor district.
Anchors in space
Obviously, all cities are different. The specific ways in which nonprofit anchor resources are spatially distributed, and the ways that these institutions relate geographically to communities that continue to deal with the legacies of discrimination and disinvestment, are the products of unique histories. But one thing that the tale of the three cities above tells us is that place can be an important consideration when thinking about how to leverage anchors for transformative and inclusive economic development in low-income communities. The Democracy Collaborative is earnestly exploring this lens of inquiry. In New Orleans, for instance, the Democracy Collaborative was recently invited to work together both with Mayor Landrieu and the New Orleans Business Alliance to explore how the city's anchor institutions can be used strategically to fight poverty and create opportunities for local businesses. The geography of New Orleans is suggestive: as the map above shows, an area of the city dealing with exceptional levels of poverty, the Claiborne Corridor (in red), is intersected by the area in which major post-Katrina hospital construction is taking place (in blue). Thinking spatially about poverty and economic development in New Orleans might open up strategies that a focus just on employment figures and procurement totals might miss. For instance, could these anchor institutions (and the other major anchors located near the boundaries of the Corridor) be connected in a comprehensive, placed-based approach to community wealth building?