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Winter 2012   


        Growing Toward the Future: Building Capacity for Local Economic Development
        Conceptualizing and Measuring Resilience
        Meeting the Challenges of Suburban Poverty

Why Anchor Institutions Matter

Regional stresses affect all who have a stake in a healthy, sustainable community.
Clean & Green, an on-the-job training landscaping program supported by Bon Secours Community Works and its community partners, transforms vacant lots into well-maintained green spaces in Baltimore neighborhoods. Bon Secours Community Works
Over the past 20 years, anchor institutions have become increasingly involved in strengthening and rebuilding communities and addressing local problems such as poverty, crime, neighborhood renewal, housing and commercial development, and education.1 Often referred to as “eds and meds,” most anchor institutions are colleges, universities, and hospitals. These prominent organizations attract and spend substantial amounts of money, draw and support large numbers of employees, sustain special expertise and knowledge bases, and own significant amounts of land, all of which anchor them to their communities. Portland State University in Oregon and Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore (through Bon Secours Community Works) are two examples of anchor institutions that have spearheaded positive community change efforts after a period of neighborhood decline.

Within its community, Portland State has facilitated neighborhood revitalization, economic development, local capacity building, educational and scholarly engagement, and regional partnerships since the early 1990s.2 The university has supported 600 local businesses with its Business Outreach Program, collaborated to form an official tutoring program with 60 area public schools, and established a service component and a senior capstone project within its curriculum to foster connections between its students and the surrounding community.3 The university has worked jointly with the city and regional partners to leverage the resources needed to plan and execute long-term economic development plans consistent with community goals. These partnerships have helped renew the neighborhood and businesses around the university, promoted affordable housing and public/private mixed-use development, and are responsible for a streetcar system that links the university to surrounding communities.

Bon Secours Community Works has focused on neighborhood revitalization within its Baltimore community for more than a decade, partnering with residents and other local organizations to focus on housing, asset development, social services, job training, and blight. To date, “Operation ReachOut Southwest” has added more than 100 units of multifamily rental housing, two senior housing projects, and a financial services center to the community. The initiative has leveraged funds from a number of sources to offer home improvement loans to more than 60 homeowners. The group’s efforts in the neighborhood also include maintaining more than 400 vacant properties totaling more than 450,000 square feet and holding monthly meetings with community leaders to serve as a forum for local issues.4

As in these examples, anchor institutions add value and bring stability to their communities in innumerable ways. As good neighbors and citizens, anchor institutions can stimulate local economies and apply unique resources and competencies to improving the health, resilience, and long-term sustainability of their neighborhoods and regions. At the same time, anchor institutions maximize their own strengths, resources, and opportunities, making community involvement a win-win investment.5

  1. Henry S. Webber and Mikael Karlstrom. 2009. “Why Community Investment is Good for Nonprofit Anchor Institutions: Understanding Costs, Benefits, and the Range of Strategic Options,” 4.
  2. Rita Axelroth and Steve Dubb. 2010. The Road Half Traveled: University Engagement at a Crossroads, College Park, MD: The Democracy Collaborative at Maryland State University, 6, 50.
  3. Ibid., 50–4; “Business Outreach Program at Portland State University.” Portland State University ( Accessed 22 November 2011.
  4. Rachel F. Edds and Chimere Lesane-Matthews. 2006. “West Baltimore and Transit-Centered Community Development: A Review of Community Plans and Exploration of Development Opportunities,” 12–20, 34–8.
  5. Axelroth and Dubb, 8–13, 50–65, 139.


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