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Anchor Institutions

Anchor institutions drive regional economies, both as major employers and purchasers of goods and services. These institutions range from universities and hospitals – often referred to as “eds and med” – to airports, cultural destinations, and foundations. Their economic power for cities stems not only from the services they provide, but also from the many residents that they employ and the volume of goods and services that these institutions procure.


Mayors can influence anchor institution behavior to bring more opportunity to their cities, and drive that opportunity toward the most underserved areas and residents. There are five major ways that mayors can push anchors to better serve the regional economy: encourage anchors to purchase locally; help local businesses access anchor procurement; encourage anchors to hire locally, especially those residents shut out of other employment processes; help residents access anchor jobs, such as through first-source hiring agreements and workforce training pipelines; and encourage anchors to provide high road jobs, which offer good wages, robust benefits, and ongoing training opportunities.


Beyond advocating for local jobs and purchasing, mayors can also leverage relationships with anchor institutions to spur development and increase tax revenue collected. Encouraging community-supported development in lower-income neighborhoods can inject resources and jobs into economically flagging areas, especially when paired with community benefits agreements; affordable employee housing could be one element of such a project. Building industry clusters with large anchor institutions at the center can also spur economic development by attracting smaller companies in the sector. Lastly, though such arrangements can often be tense, mayors can be successful brokers for fair payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements with non-profit anchors so that residents do not bear more than their share of costs for city services. 

Can Hospitals Heal America’s Communities? “All in for Mission” is the Emerging Model for Impact, Tyler Norris and Ted Howard, Democracy Collaborative, January 1st, 2016. Read more.

Striking a (Local) Grand Bargain, National Resource Network, September 1st, 2015. Read more.

Leveraging Anchor Institutions for Economic Inclusion, Chris Schildt and Victor Rubin, PolicyLink, January 23rd, 2015. Read more.

A New Anchor Mission for a New Century, Marjorie Kelly and Violeta Duncan, Democracy Collaborative, November 1st, 2014. Read more.

The Foundational Role of Universities as Anchor Institutions in Urban Development, Debra Friedman, David Perry, and Carrie Menendez, Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, January 1st, 2014. Read more.

Harnessing the Economic Power of Anchor Institutions, Living Cities, October 2nd, 2013. Read more.

The Role of Anchor Institutions in Sustaining Community Economic Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, February 1st, 2013. Read more.

Anchor Institutions and Urban Economic Development: From Community Benefit to Shared Values, Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, October 26th, 2010. Read more.

Community-owned stores: New anchors for older main streets, Stacy Mitchell, National Trust for Historic Preservation , June 1st, 2008. Read more.

Leveraging Anchor Institutions for Local Job Creation and Wealth Building, Steve Dubb and Ted Howard, Democracy Collaborative. Read more.

Anchor Mission Dashboard, Democracy Collaborative. Read more.

Linking Anchor Institutions to Outcomes for Families, Children, and Communities, Democracy Collaborative. Read more.

Anchors can be model consumers by procuring goods and services locally. The “Cleveland Model” is a partnership between the City of Cleveland, OH, the Cleveland Foundation, and major anchors like the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University. This collaboration created the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative, which consists of multiple worker-owned businesses that employ area residents to fill needs of the anchors.


The University of Pennsylvania spends about $100 million per year (about 10% of its total purchasing) buying from suppliers in the immediate West Philadelphia area. Read more about the power of anchors’ procurement practices for the local economy.


As employers, several anchor institutions have model local-resident hiring programs. Detroit, MI’s Henry Ford Hospital and Temple University in Philadelphia, PA both have local-first hiring initiatives.


Anchors can also serve as real estate developers. Connective Corridor in Syracuse, New York (led by Syracuse University and supported by the City of Syracuse, NY) has leveraged $46 million in external funding to redevelop a prime section of the city’s downtown area, spurring further private investment as well. The mayor has also supported efforts to bring eds and meds anchors to the city.


Indiana University Northwest in Gary, IN has been collaborating with the city to redevelop the currently blighted University Park neighborhood near its campus, planning for complete streets and pedestrian-friendly retail, among other ideas to strategically revitalize the area.


A fourth major role for anchors comes by organizing industry clusters. Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, VA organized the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, bringing together private sector companies, non-profits, and government laboratories into a central location.


Ceri Jenkins