How can we maximize the potential of anchor institutions -- 'eds and meds' -- to drive economic growth and opportunity in our cities and metropolitan regions?

Next week in Baltimore we’re assembling a group of senior leaders from a variety of sectors and issue areas for Living Cities’ first ever Design Lab. The purpose of this working session is to collectively make progress in addressing this question: how can we maximize the potential of anchor institutions to drive economic growth and opportunity in our cities and metropolitan regions?

As Living Cities President and CEO Ben Hecht wrote recently, anchor institutions across the country are interested in increasing their role as economic drivers in their cities. We have been particularly interested in the work that anchors have been doing as part of the Living Cities Integration Initiative, particularly in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Detroit. What’s increasingly clear is that in order to maximize their true potential, anchor institutions must be better connected with the larger regional ecosystem of which they are a part.

From “Going It Alone” to Regional Alignment

While anchor institutions like universities and hospitals are increasingly taking steps to enhance their impact on their local economies, they have in many respects been “going it alone.” That is, they have been advancing innovative practices to increase their local economic impact without the full benefit of coordinated efforts of other regional systems and stakeholders.

For the economic impact of anchor institutions to be maximized, an array of other important actors and systems within a region need to be mobilized and aligned with the anchors’ efforts. For example:

  • Regional economic development strategies need to maximize the value that anchors have to offer
  • The workforce development system needs to produce workers with the skills and competencies needed by anchors and the employers with whom anchors interact
  • Organizations that support small business development need to more effectively prepare small businesses to connect with anchor-related opportunities
  • Land use and transportation planning need to be re-engineered to efficiently connect anchors with business partners and employees, and
  • Capital needs to be available to finance the growth of businesses that are connected to anchors.

Bringing Diverse Leaders Together to Create Knowledge

To tackle the problem through this lens, we are bringing together not just senior leaders from universities and hospitals but, equally important, leading practitioners and thought leaders from the range of systems described above that need to be actively engaged if the full potential of anchors is to be realized. Next week, these leaders will converge in Baltimore to share information and perspectives and collaborate in designing a new framework for the future.

These issue are undoubtedly complex, and do not lend themselves to easy answers. As a result, our meeting next week is not a conference, with panels, plenaries, and keynotes mainly designed to transfer settled knowledge from some participants to other participants. Instead, participants at the Design Lab will work actively and collectively to leverage this unique assembly of experiences and resources in order to create knowledge about the potential for anchor-regional alignment, the barriers to realizing that alignment, and strategies for overcoming those barriers.

Along the way, we’ll undoubtedly surface new questions and new ways of thinking about the various dimensions of these problems. We’re pleased to be working with InnovationLabs, one of the country’s leading innovation consulting firms, who has helped us design a sequence of small- and large- group working sessions that will maximize the collective problem-solving power of our group.

Our goal is to develop a framework of approaches and practices that can point various stakeholders in a region toward the kind of alignment that can magnify the impact of anchors’ efforts. We expect a rich and lively set of discussions, and will look forward to sharing what we learn as widely as possible to engage an even broader group in this ongoing conversation. In that spirit, we would like to share the framing paper for the event, Harnessing the Full Economic Impact of Anchor Institutions. This paper is not meant to be the last word on the subject, but, on the contrary, is intended as a starting point for discussion among participants at the Design Lab and others who are interested in this work. We hope that the paper, like the Design Lab itself, will spur dialogue that enables the field to move forward in this work.