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Measuring Anchor Impact: A Q&A with the Democracy Collaborative's Ted Howard

Ted Howard

Democracy Collaborative Executive Director Ted Howard talks to ICIC about how anchor institutions can play a key role in inclusive development in traditionally underserved communities. 

Organizations that are committed to operating in a particular community long-term have a direct interest in seeing that community thrive.  More and more, these “anchors” have begun to recognize their community ties and that they can do well while doing good.  In cities across the country, anchor organizations are implementing strategies to improve their communities’ economic and social conditions while also increasing their own competitiveness.

ICIC’s upcoming What Works Webinar  will help communities and their anchor organizations take the next step in developing engagement strategies.  The webinar will share metrics and best practices for measuring the returns of engagement strategies – both for the anchor and for the community.

ICIC’s Kim Zeuli will be joined on the webinar by UPenn’s Anthony Sorrentino and the Democracy Collaborative’s Ted Howard.  Below, we’ve asked Ted to share insights about his work with measuring anchor impact. 

How do you define an anchor organization?

Anchor institutions are nonprofit or public institutions that are critical community assets and unlikely to relocate because of their mission, invested capital and customer relationships. The most prominent types of anchors are “eds and meds” (universities and hospitals), but others that are included in the mix include local governments, community foundations, and cultural and faith-based institutions.

Unlike many corporations that come and go from communities, anchors are rooted in place and tend to stay put. They are “sticky capital.” As a result, anchors have greater incentives to focus on the long-term vitality of the place in which they reside.

Hospitals and universities often draw the most focus because they have become important economic engines — often ranking among the largest nongovernmental employers — in their respective city. Together, hospitals and universities employ more than 9 million people and procure more than $500 billion annually.

In recent years, there has been much discussion about broadening the definition of anchors to include privately-held or stockholder-owned companies that may have been based in a community for a long time. My own view is that ownership matters. Ultimately, if the owners of these enterprises determine they can maximize shareholder value by relocating, then these firms often do move. While such companies can exhibit types of “anchor behavior” I do not personally think they qualify as true anchors.....

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