April 1, 2020
There is a lot of talk in city planning circles these days about anchor institutions in cities and towns. With the loss of manufacturing in smaller cities and towns, institutions like hospitals and universities have become more important factors in local economies, and partners to neighborhoods and municipalities. In fact, those two institutions alone employ eight percent of the U.S. labor force and account for more than seven percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Below we delve a little deeper into anchor institutions and how they can benefit their communities.
What Are Anchor Institutions?
Anchor institutions are organizations that are established in communities and tied to them via place. Examples are libraries, hospitals, local community foundations, colleges and universities, and cultural organizations such as museums or arts centers. Anchor institutions can also be major employers in certain niches like science and design. Because of their longstanding establishment in a town or city, these places have an interest and investment in keeping their community vibrant. They contribute to their community via their employees, businesses they use as vendors, and relationships with neighbors and other organizations in the area. Because of their ties to their neighborhoods, towns, and regions, they are seen as key to its economic development, wellbeing, and cultural growth. The thinking is that they can be even more beneficial to their towns and cities via their intellectual resources, and economic and cultural power.
As some of the largest regional employers in a city, anchor institutions can benefit a city or town through its hiring and workforce development programs. Hiring local residents at decent, living wages and offering career building opportunities for local residents and employees can keep the area’s economy healthy. Working with and hiring locally-owned vendors promotes small and local businesses.
Other ways anchor institutions can promote business development in the area include colleges and universities making use of their resources, such as faculty and students. By creating small business development centers to work in their regions they can help to build the capacity of local
businesses. Area foundations and nonprofits too can create programs to work with local individuals and businesses to build their professional capacity. Colleges for example can also work with local school districts to create viable pipelines and pathways to skilled, high-paying jobs.
Promoting A Healthy Community
Institutions can do a number of things to impact the health of their neighborhoods and regions. They can work directly with the community via public health interventions. They can also make investments in factors that affect good health such as access to health care and health care information, access to healthy food and physical activity in local public schools, workforce wellness initiatives with local businesses, investment in safe and affordable housing, and by providing employment to local residents.
Anchor institutions need to engage with their local communities to maintain a partnership relationship. Universities can foster civic participation via discussions, lectures, workshops around adult education, politics, and the economy. Art institutions can support building a thriving arts and culture hub by supporting local artists and businesses, and partnering with local schools.
Anchor Institutions can bring important benefits to local communities in which they are located by creating decent-paying jobs for residents, supporting local businesses and community-based entrepreneurship, promoting the arts, culture and health, and engaging residents in a variety of productive ways.
In Norwalk, we have a number of anchor institutions, including Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Community College and The Maritime Aquarium, for example. Anchor institutions are central to the implementation of the current Wall Street-West Avenue Redevelopment Plan. Because there are only a few traditional institutions in the area – Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Public Library, Stepping Stones – non-traditional anchor institutions such as major employers like King Industries and Devine Brothers are also involved. These community strongholds continue to contribute to making Norwalk and surrounding towns a dynamic place to live and work.