Community Gut Check: Not All Anchor Collaborations Are Created Equal

Key questions to consider when assessing the strength of your anchor collaborations.

It’s no secret that anchor institutions (anchors) – those large nonprofit enterprises, such as universities and hospitals, that are unlikely to move due to their mission, customer base, and ownership – are vital assets and economic drivers to local economies.

Read any economic impact report published by such institutions and you’ll discover their significant purchasing power. Collectively, they are spending billions on local goods and services. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that anchors are (1) often one of the top employers within an area; (2) have significant capacity to acquire and develop property; and (3) at the nucleus of many innovation districts/hubs, making transformative discoveries with new technology.

Yet, not all anchor institutions are the same; not all are addressing issues of great importance to a community; not all communities are benefitting equally.

Anchors are also playing an increasing role in community revitalization – providing capacity for communities to respond more efficiently to local needs and, through collaborative models, ensure pathways toward equity and economic opportunity. Yet, not all anchor institutions are the same; not all are addressing issues of great importance to a community; not all communities are benefitting equally.

Nonprofit Quarterly’s recent webinar on “Remaking the Economy: Leveraging Anchor Institutions” sheds light on some of the challenges that exist for anchors in supporting local objectives, particularly in low-income and minority communities. On one end, anchors whose business models aren’t community-oriented or whose frequent changes in leadership – and subsequently, priorities – can add tension to existing partnerships. On the other end, a lack of consensus among grassroots organizations and/or the inability to frame issues and understand solutions (“the ask”), can deter anchors to get involved.

It will take a cultural shift at all levels, a shared vision and a bold champion whose committed to working together for anchor collaborations to truly be effective. Within this spectrum of difficulty, where do you and your anchor collaborations fit? Lets assess your relationship. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your anchors’ investments in real estate contributing to local economic growth, aligning with the economic vision of your area, and/or directly benefiting low-income and underserved neighborhoods?

  • Are you building partnerships with anchors at all levels of the organization? Is there a “community partnership” lead at the anchor? Is the imperative to be a community-oriented anchor communicated and encouraged from executive leadership?

  • Beyond local hiring and purchasing, are your anchors thinking about scaling their impact to address issues that are indirectly related to their mission but are, say, health and/or education adjacent (e.g. housing)?

  • How are your anchor collaborations measuring success? In what ways are they exploring whether or not their investments are on the right track?

  • Does your community have an intermediary, a third-party convener/entity that can help initiate a partnership, liaise with local organizations and anchors, hold one another accountable and ensure the community is at the center of its work?

  • Are anchors engaged at the start and present at the table in community-level strategic planning processes and/or strategy sessions around key areas of concern?

  • Is your anchor collaborative’s business model sustainable? Is there funding available that can support long-term engagement?

Though not an exhaustive list of things to consider when evaluating the strength and impact of your anchor institution collaborations, it’s certainly a starting point. Some of the most pressing socioeconomic challenges still persist today that widen economic disparity. Creating lasting partnerships – and doing them right – can help reverse these trends and lead to lasting change.

Do you know of any anchor collaborations that are doing things well? Let us know!

Tips for Inclusive Growth: Building Neighborhood Business Districts

Building stronger economies is a core component of what we do as economic development strategists and ideas generated to advance and position an economy for growth differ region to region. To some, a “stronger economy” may mean scaling businesses and/or affordable housing. To others, it may mean investing more in transportation or all of the above. Variance aside, an increasingly common variable we’re finding in our work is a focus on inclusive economic growth.

According to Brookings Institute’s “Opportunity for Growth” report, cities are a critical scale at which to address barriers to and foster greater economic opportunity for workers, firms and local economies. So, if you’re wondering how you can tackle inclusive growth for your city or region, think about your most critical local assets and economic drivers. Think: neighborhood business districts (NBDs), those corridors or hubs of small, boutique shops often anchored by a grocery store and centered around day-to-day convenience shopping needs of residents. NBDs present a unique advantage for cities thinking about how to build wealth for residents, concentrate local jobs, and even increase safety and livability.

Here’s some food for thought:

• Entrepreneurship has been a proven model for financial empowerment and economic mobility, but is most difficult to achieve for residents in poor communities. Investing in NBDs enable areas to reimagine vacant or underutilized spaces for entrepreneurship activity to support local entrepreneurs’ ability to learn, test new ideas, and scale operations.

THINK: Entrepreneurship for All and their efforts to advance inclusive entrepreneurship in local communities in Massachusetts.

• Proximity to jobs and amenities add to a neighborhood’s affordability, particularly as transportation costs make up a large share of expenditures for low-income families. Investing in local NBDs not only increases employment opportunities for local residents but also ensures better access to them.

THINK: the Center for Neighborhood Technology Housing and Transportation Index proving that where neighborhoods are location-efficient, they’re affordable.

• Homeownership is an essential path toward opportunity and wealth building. These assets suffer in poor communities where low home/property values, due in part to the quality of the neighborhood, exists. Investments in NBDs over time – i.e. building renovations and streetscape improvements – reduces blight and vacancy, increases community value and benefits local residents looking to buy, own or sell in the area.

THINK: Brookings recent “The Devaluation of Assets on Black Communities” report.

• Investing in businesses within NBD’s increases tax and municipal revenues, making available additional resources for an area’s infrastructure and public service needs.

THINK: Smart Growth America and how walkable urban development and other smart growth strategies are helping to boost tax revenue.

Building capacity to revitalize a neighborhood business district is no easy task. Yet, with due diligence, a city and region serious about inclusion can develop strategies centered on building NBDs that are economically viable, resilient and sustainable. In return, economic outcomes are not only strengthened but also guaranteed to reach people and places that need it the most.

Talk is (Not) Cheap! Doing More to Connect Your Workforce to High-Opportunity Careers

Everyone is talking about workforce.

Thoughts around the impacts of an aging population, the need to attract diverse and skilled workers, the power of millennial talent, the technology skills gap, upskilling, the role of career and technical education (to name a few) are on the minds of every city and region seeking to get ahead of one of the leading threats to economic growth. Yet, talk is just that … talk. Though important, it is inaction that’s really costing regions their competitive advantage.

Fortunately, we know of and have invested time in places ready to do something about their current and future workforce challenges. Resonating in these places is a common resolution: connect job seekers to high-opportunity careers. Here’s a snapshot of what’s being done:

Apprenticeship Carolina
Apprenticeship Carolina

In places where quality training is limited, they are deepening connections between industry employers and technical colleges to create and expand apprenticeships for entry-level workers and mid-career talent. A “learn and earn” approach to training that entails a combination of classroom instruction, on-the-job-training and industry-specific skill development is proving to be a great model of success in places like South Carolina with its employer-focused Apprenticeship Carolina initiative.

In places where there’s a large pool of disadvantaged, underskilled talent, they are  leveling the playing field for job seekers by mitigating barriers to entry. Opportunity@Work’s offerings in underserved communities across the country extend beyond skills training to include efforts to transform employer hiring practices and reimagine education financing. Their efforts result in more equitable and fair hiring and options such as financing and wrap-around social services to make it easier for lower-income individuals to seek training and perform on the job.

In places where low-wage jobs are common, efforts are underway to increase access to better, higher wage jobs and improve job quality. Through the Apsen Institute’s Good Companies/Good Jobs initiative, communities are partnering with employers to incentivize and reform conditions for low-wage workers. Boston’s hotel industry is a benefactor of their efforts as front-desk clerks, housekeepers and the like are now making living wages and have increased opportunities for job advancement.

These are just some of the many actions cities and regions are taking to build a strong and more resilient workforce for today’s needs and tomorrow’s success. They aren’t just talking about it, they are doing something about it with strategies that are providing strong return on investment and ensuring an overall stronger economy.

Got solutions? We’d love to hear them. Want to do more? Get in touch – we’d love to help.