In an increasingly global community, where the specifics of place mater less and less, we must begin to examine the role of anchor institutions and understand how they impact our cities. Anchor institutions, as they are commonly defined, are those institutions (such as universities, hospitals, churches, museums, or even some large businesses) that are tied to specific cities. They drive local economies and, ideally, provide a sense of place and pride for residents.
While the concept of anchor institutions is intuitively grasped by most citizens interested in urban affairs, quantitative research on their economic impacts is scarce. This leads to much local debate; should Miami government, for example, continue to press for a new stadium funded with State tax dollars, or should its efforts be focused elsewhere? Can Phoenix taxpayers rely on Arizona State University’s proposed downtown campus to anchor the city center? In Baltimore, this influences how the expansion of Johns Hopkins is handled politically.
Earlier this year, along with several other students in the City and Regional Planning program at the University of Pennsylvania, I began a preliminary investigation of the economic impacts of anchor institutions. Our findings were clear: in east coast, post-industrial cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, anchor institutions accounted for many of city’s leading employers and revenue generators. In Baltimore, over 56% of those employed by the city’s top 25 largest employers worked for and anchor institution. In Philadelphia this number was around 47%. (Think Johns Hopkins or the University of Pennsylvania and their associated hospitals and research facilities). Global cities, such as New York, however, were less reliant on anchor institutions to fuel their economies.
Cities like Baltimore must pay attention to and cultivate their anchor institutions. Not only do these institutions account for much of the economic activity already in the city, but are most likely drive future job growth and economic expansion. For example, on October 10, the Washington Business Journal announced that Cangen Biotechnologies, a Bethesda, MD company, signed an agreement to occupy space in Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore Biotechnology campus. This conglomeration of innovative research, along with associated jobs for residents with a variety of skills, represents a new path for cities such as Baltimore.
Anchor institutions are most likely to drive the economic future of many post-industrial cities; their leaders should certainly take notice.