On March 19th and 20th, Living Cities convened more than 60 public-sector, private-sector, and philanthropic leaders representing anchor institutions and systems including regional economic development and planning, small business, finance, and workforce development. Our goal was to better understand how, within a region, these systems can better harness the economic impact of anchor institutions in order to drive growth and opportunity. Below are some of the key ideas that emerged from this collaborative working session:
1. To maximize the economic impact of anchors, a broader set of leaders needs to be engaged. A region’s ability to harness the economic impact of its anchors depends upon many systems over which anchors, acting alone, have little direct control. Leaders from other institutions (“a coalition of the willing”) need to engage systematically with universities and hospitals in order to identify roles anchors can play that are consistent with their core missions and business models – and to identify how non-anchor actors can orient related systems to help anchors play those roles more easily and to greater effect.
2. Efforts must focus on transforming systems in order to make meaningful impact. As one participant said: “if we are going to take on big challenges, we have to deal with the big systems that are making obstacles more complex,” as opposed to redesigning existing systems incrementally, ultimately leading to an extension of the status quo. In addition, there is a need to figure out how to engineer the anchor-driven revitalization of regions at a faster pace than has generally occurred in the past.
3. For the purposes of this work, “region” should be defined as the collective footprints of the activities connected to anchors. Several participants underscored that regionalism for its own sake creates the risk of getting bogged down in regional politics when in fact different anchor-related activities will have different relevant geographic scales. For example, efforts to accelerate the commercialization of anchor-generated research, initiatives to connect small businesses to anchor supply chains, and efforts to better train the local workforce for anchor-related opportunities might each have their own relevant geographies and set of key actors.
Participants debrief a preceding discussion during a breakout
4. In order for this work to successfully and link low-income people to economic opportunity at meaningful scale, this outcome must be a focus from the beginning, rather than an “add-on.” Specific outcomes for low-income people and communities (e.g. procurement goals for anchors) must be identified and managed across partners. Participants also noted a need for greater clarity about certain dimensions of this part of the work – for example, how specifically an economic strategy like technology transfer can integrate a focus on linking low-income people to economic opportunity.
5. Intermediaries are required to facilitate the connections between anchors and systems in a region. The work of linking anchors to regional systems is currently no one’s “day job.” This work requires one or more “multilingual” entities that can identify and translate the interests of anchors and other stakeholders in order to identify opportunities for them to work together toward regional economic impact and mutual benefit.
6. Capital from the private sector and funding from the public sector can play an important role. Capital providers and intermediaries need to be better oriented to opportunities related to anchor institutions such as small business capital (e.g., equity, debt) to support the range of businesses that relate to anchors; or subsidized capital to provide affordable housing so that employees can live closer to work. Another key task for these leaders, working with anchors, is “market-making”, or the removing of barriers to the flow of capital.
Participants select “concept cards” conveying key ideas related to the substance of the Design Lab at the outset of the event
7. Better data are needed to support this work. Data can play several significant roles, potentially including demonstrating the return on investment for anchors and regions working together, and providing real-time “intelligence” in support of specific strategies (e.g., a database of small and minority- and owned- businesses in support of efforts to increase anchor contracting with these businesses). Some of this data already exists and just needs to be aggregated in usable ways; other data remains to be collected.
8. The role of technology in anchor-related work needs to be better understood. Technology is transforming education and healthcare (e.g., through e-learning and e-medicine), as well as the relationship between citizens and government through civic tech. But the impact of technology on the future of eds and meds in their roles as anchors, as well as what roles technology can play in re-engineering the relationships between anchors and regions, are not as well understood.
9. More research and innovation is needed to advance regions’ ability to harness their anchors. Some specific needs cited were a better typology of anchor institutions, a richer, data-grounded understanding of anchors’ economic relationship to their regions, a better understanding of the return on investment for various anchor activities, and how real-estate developers and venture capital can be better engaged in anchor-related work. Some of these needs can be addressed through the collection and analysis of existing information, while others will require more experimentation.
Participants stand for a group photo at the end of the Design Lab
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