Image: Gamble Associates

Educational, medical, and other institutions represent critical and often untapped assets for local economies

Universities, hospitals, and other large nonprofit and public institutions are often a community’s largest local employer and a dominating presence in the neighborhood. These “anchor institutions” are rooted in place, and because of their ownership, customer base, and mission, are unlikely to move to another location. They have a vested interest in the local community by virtue of their land holdings, capital, and physical structures—as well as historic ties—and as a result have substantial economic impact in terms of hiring and purchasing power.

Despite this relationship, many institutions have historically been inward-facing: physically and operationally disconnected from their neighbors. They have often thought of their business functions as separate from their missions rather than as assets to be leveraged for their own benefit and the benefit of their surrounding community. In many cases, residents and businesses have limited relationships with their local institutions and struggle with physical, economic, and social disinvestment. This disconnect is a missed opportunity for both anchors and neighborhoods.

More than 340 health care and higher education institutions are located in the tri-state area, including many in low-income communities of color. These institutions can be partners in creating healthy and economically vibrant neighborhoods. Data Source: HRSA Data Warehouse, 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.

Collaboration helps stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods while creating tangible benefits for anchor institutions

Connecting the people, knowledge, physical spaces, and economies of these powerful institutions to their surrounding communities—particularly when they are low-income with limited opportunities—leads to mutually beneficial and self-sustaining local ecosystems. Forging stronger ties between institutions and communities improves economic, physical, and social conditions in low-income communities and communities of color in six key areas:

  • Hiring and workforce development: Partnering with existing community-based organizations to train local residents for existing employment opportunities benefits institutions by allowing them to leverage existing public resources to create a diverse local workforce that exhibits less tardiness than those with longer commutes. Further, local partnerships and investments in employees help improve staff morale and employee retention.
  • Inclusive, local purchasing: Healthcare and higher-education institutions have tremendous purchasing power, which can provide critical support for diverse and local businesses, and to incubate new enterprises in local neighborhoods to fill supply-chain gaps.
  • Place-based impact investing: Institutions can earn a financial return on their investments while producing a positive social, economic, and/or environmental impact within their geographical service areas. These can be as simple as shifting cash deposits to local banks and credit unions, or investing in low-risk fixed-income products offered by community-development financial intermediaries that provide services and resources to underserved communities.
  • Coordinated capital investments: Coordination of anchor and municipal capital investments in streetscapes and public spaces can make communities safer and more attractive for residents, and also help anchors retain and attract talent. In particular, these investments can benefit those who have traditionally been underserved, reversing patterns of disinvestment and disparities between communities.
  • Increased access to quality housing: Investments in a quality, mixed-income housing stock create a healthy and socially diverse neighborhood where people at multiple income and skill levels can live and work. Quality housing improves health outcomes for children, families, and individuals, while well-maintained homes and streets have the added benefit of improving neighborhood safety and security.
  • Mission alignment: Nonprofit and public institutions bring expertise to local communities in areas such as healthcare, education, and arts and culture, and can work with local residents to tackle persistent community challenges in these fields. This helps institutions advance their missions while also improving community well-being.

Support a growing number of partnerships across the region

Growing partnerships among anchor institutions, community-based organizations, and other intermediaries already exist in the Bronx, Newark, and Stamford, to the benefit of local residents. With over 340 anchor institutions in the tri-state region, there is even greater potential for new investment as part of an anchor strategy.

For more of these partnerships to take place, incentives are needed for anchors, municipalities, and local neighborhoods to collaborate. These could come from government, nonprofit foundations, or industry associations, in the form of learning networks, competitive grants, or technical support that facilitates collaborative partnerships.

Creating these partnerships would require dialogue and engagement between local municipalities, neighborhoods, and anchor institutions, while effectively communicating the benefits to these partners as follows:

Foster a culture of collaboration

While collaboration begins with an agreement to share information and coordinate projects and planning, the true work begins when anchor institutions and local governments agree to learn about and implement best practices to advance community economic-development strategies. Given that this strategy is not yet commonplace, it necessitates openness to creativity and new methods of problem solving. This approach requires both institutions and municipal governments to commit to advancing a culture of collaboration and developing a structure that facilitates interdisciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration.

Establish a clear line of communication

A clear, direct, and regular line of communication between municipal and institutional leadership is vital to establishing the relationships and trust necessary to advance an anchor strategy and uncover the joint benefits of collaboration. Regular leadership meetings provide an opportunity to explore common interests and shared goals, as well as opportunities for joint projects and partnerships on many levels. They also help establish the leadership buy-in that is critical to success.

Initiate joint projects and planning efforts

Joint projects and planning efforts between anchor institutions, municipal government, and local communities can provide important opportunities to establish and grow partnerships, and determine points of common interest and benefit. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut can incentivize this type of collaboration by providing grant funds to support joint projects and joint planning efforts; and prioritizing infrastructure investment, housing subsidies, and economic development funds for implementation of such efforts.

The states should also explore leveraging federal programs, such as the Affordable Care Act’s community-benefit requirement, to encourage healthcare and other institutions to implement joint projects and planning efforts in partnership with their local community and municipal government.


By 2030, collaboration between anchor institutions, municipalities, and local communities should be standard practice and imbedded into the fabric of government and anchor institution operations throughout the region. Anchor strategies and community partnerships should be included in local comprehensive plans, and partnerships with municipalities and local neighborhoods should be included in anchor institutions’ strategic planning documents. The outcome of this cultural shift should include:

  • Collaborations between anchors and public schools, community colleges, vocational training centers, workforce intermediaries, and other community-based organizations to connect residents with jobs at the anchor institutions that have clear career pathways.
  • Mechanisms to facilitate anchor purchasing from local businesses, including minority-, women-, and employee-owned firms, by establishing targets and incentives for procurement, creating systems that allow multiple small businesses to provide bundled services to anchors, helping small businesses scale by connecting them to technical assistances and subcontracting opportunities, and addressing procurement barriers such as access to online hubs and contracting insurance and bonding requirements.
  • Anchor investment in quality affordable and mixed-income housing that can include partnering with or creating a subsidiary community development corporation, providing employer-assisted housing programs,or repurposing unused space or buildings for affordable and/or supportive housing.
  • Capital investments that can include removing walls, fences, and other physical barriers that separate institutions from their communities, intentionally connecting campuses to local streets with signage and uniform streetscapes, creating an accessible broadband network that spans both the anchor and the local neighborhood, and expanding transit access for both residents and employees.
  • Alignment of anchor core missions with local community needs and local expertise to sustain meaningful partnerships over the long term.

Paying for It

Establishing effective anchor strategies requires a commitment of staff resources necessary for developing relationships and growing sustainable collaborative institutional structures within government, institutions, and neighborhoods. Some new capital or programmatic investments may be needed from either the institution or municipality, but most investments would involve reprogramming or prioritization of existing resources.