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‘Anchor strategy’: Twin Cities’ urban-revitalization methods stand out

Anchor institutions — including colleges, universities, nonprofits and health care organizations — join with neighbors to boost inner-city communities.

Northeast Minneapolis
One of the chief reasons for this urban renaissance is easily overlooked — the proud refusal of millions of city dwellers to give up on the places they call home.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

In the 1990s, futurists widely speculated that cities were no longer necessary. Why would anyone remain in gritty concrete jungles when the internet allowed us all to work anywhere we wished — deep in the woods, high on a mountaintop, nestled into a small town.

Yet many cities today are experiencing levels of growth not seen since World War II — including Minneapolis and St. Paul.

This remarkable turnaround is explained by a host of converging factors, which range from plummeting crime rates to younger generations raised on city-celebrating TV shows like “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.”

But one of the chief reasons for this urban renaissance is easily overlooked — the proud refusal of millions of city dwellers to give up on the places they call home. Instead of moving out, they dug deeper into their neighborhoods — organizing public safety campaigns, clean-up crews, restoration projects and other efforts to improve their communities.

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Joining in these efforts have been many hospitals and colleges. Just like residents, these institutions are adversely affected by problems like crime, blight and unemployment in their neighborhoods. So, for both idealistic and self-interested reasons, they boosted revitalization efforts through what’s known the “anchor institution” strategy, which David Maurrasse, director of the national Anchor Institutions Task Force, describes as “enduring organizations that remain in their geographical settings and play a vital role in their local communities and economies.”

The anchor institution idea was launched in the 1990s when the future of inner-city neighborhoods around the country looked dire — including those surrounding the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Trinity College in Hartford, and the Cleveland Clinic.

Anchored in the Twin Cities

This strategy works even in places not experiencing the steep decline of industrial cities. San Diego, San Francisco and Minneapolis-St. Paul all sport robust strategies for lifting up challenged neighborhoods, said Maurrasse, who visited Minnesota last summer to study the work of the local Central Corridor Anchor Partnership (CCAP) as part of a delegation of college leaders hosted by Augsburg University.

“I’ve learned a lot from the Central Corridor anchors for our work in Philadelphia,” says Ira Harkavy, one of the pioneers of the anchor strategy at the University of Pennsylvania, who was part of the same tour. The Minneapolis-St. Paul effort stands out nationally, he notes, for the sheer size of its anchor strategy — both geographically, stretching across 15 zip codes through the heart of the two cities, and for the number and variety of institutions and funding agencies involved, Harkavy adds.

Marcia Gonzalez
Central Corridor Anchor Partnership
Marcia Gonzalez: “[Central Corridor College] Fellows helped me initiate my career in the medical field. … I never struggled to find a job as a new graduate thanks to this program that helped me get a job while I was still working toward my degree.”
The Central Corridor Anchor Partnership was conceived in 2010 by the McKnight Foundation and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, a partnership among 14 local foundations to ensure that the Green Line light rail project brought tangible benefits to neighborhoods along its route.

Current hospitals and college CCAP members are Augsburg University, Fairview Health Services, Hennepin Healthcare, Metropolitan State University (Metro State), Minneapolis Community & Technical College (MCTC), Regions Hospital/ HealthPartners, St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s), Saint Paul College and the University of St. Thomas.

Together these institutions employ more than 20,000 workers, educate 112,000 students and purchase $2.5 billion in goods and services each year for their local operations, which point to numerous possibilities for anchors to improve the life of inner city residents.

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Anchors in action

The Central Corridor Anchor Partnership focuses its efforts in three areas:

1. Workforce development job training and education opportunities for lower-income residents.

CCAP has already met its initial goal of hiring more local residents at member institutions: 19 percent of employees now live in Central Corridor neighborhoods, a 6-point increase since 2013. Many of these jobs are in the fast-growing health care field. This momentum is expected to continue as more young people entering the job market have participated in CCAP sponsored programs such as:

  • Scrubs Camp, which gives high school students a taste of college life studying health sciences;
  • Central Corridor College (C3 Fellows) Fellowship program, which provides inner city students at two- and four-year colleges paid work in health care fields while still in school.

2. Procurementincreasing the share of goods and services purchased by anchor institutions from neighborhood-based businesses.

Augsburg University won kudos for tapping a number of locally run firms for 10 percent of construction contracts on its new Hagfors Center for Science, Business and Religion. “We spent $3.5 million with Twin City Glass Contractors, just down the street,” said  President Paul Pribbenow. “That’s good for the local economy and the neighborhood right here.” Overall, 15 percent of building’s total cost were contracted to local, minority or female-owned businesses, which amounted to more than $9 million — exceeding CCAP’s 10 percent recommendation.

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It’s estimated that every $140,000 spent on local foods translates to one more full-time job in the community, says CCAP’s Ellen Watters, making the $25 million annual food budget of participating hospitals and colleges a prime opportunity. The organization sponsored a local food fair and other matchmaking efforts to connect anchors with neighborhood producers, ranging from an indoor grower of fresh produce to a gluten-free bakery to purveyors of ethnic delicacies. The HealthEast health care system now dishes up 8,000 pounds of locally grown vegetables in its kitchens each year, working through its food supplier Sodexo and Good Acre, a food hub located near the Central Corridor.

3. Transportation providing a convenient, affordable range of transportation options.

Employees and students at anchor institutions can now ride light rail or buses for less, thanks to a CCAP program in which anchors offer discounted transit cards. At MCTC, transit use jumped 30 percent after the introduction of the program.

Local fellowship program breaks new ground

In the Twin Cities, involvement of for-profit companies, government agencies and nonprofit organizations outside of health and education is the wave of the future for anchor work, predicts Ira Harkavy of the University of Pennsylvania.

The C3 Fellowship Program (Central Corridor College Fellows) is a prime example of this new wave. Since 2012, the program has opened the door to careers for students at MCTC, Saint Paul College, Metro State, Augsburg and St. Kate’s. Wells Fargo, US Bank, Fairview, Hennepin Healthcare and HealthPartners have all participated, with Project for Pride in Living and The International Institute of Minnesota providing training.

While still in school, inner-city students earn money and acquire skills working in part-time jobs that put them on track for future opportunities. Lower-income students generally can’t afford to connect with potential employers through unpaid internships, explain college leaders, so this job opportunity provides them with a chance to showcase their talents.

Scrubs Camp
Saint Paul College
Scrubs Camp at Saint Paul College gives high school students a taste of college life studying health sciences.
“The C3 Fellows program has been an effective solution for our students to gain relevant career experience through paid part-time work while they attend classes,” explains MCTC President Sharon Pierce. “Many of our students are unable to consider unpaid internships based on their financial situations.”

More than 300 students were hired for part-time jobs in the healthcare field as C3 Fellows. Seventy-two percent are from low-income backgrounds, with 68 percent being students of color. They earned on average $14.44 an hour — almost five-and-half dollars more than the average wage of community college students — while gaining experience in their field of study. In addition, their level of academic success (grades and graduation) were 10 percent higher than their peers.

“As an adult learner returning to study nursing, C3 Fellows not only helped me to hone my résumé — but they’ve been invaluable in helping me make those face-to-face connections with health care employers in the Cities. As a result of the opportunities that I’ve gotten through the C3 Fellows program, I now have a patient-care job at [Hennepin Healthcare] that I love, and that is willing to work with my needs as a full-time student,” says C3 Fellow Adam Cox, who studies at MCTC.

Besides work that helps pay tuition and strengthens their résumés, C3 Fellows also get mentoring and networking opportunities, assistance in writing résumés, experience doing job interviews, and coaching on financial and work skills.

“The wrap-around support is very important. Helping students continue their education can in some cases be as easy as providing a bus card or helping them figure out child care,” explains May Xiong, vice president of employment readiness at Project for Pride in Living, a nonprofit promoting economic self-reliance that teaches courses in workplace and life skills to C3 Fellows.

A surge hiring event held at Saint Paul College in 2018.
Central Corridor Anchor Partnership
A surge hiring event held at Saint Paul College in 2018.
Saint Paul College President Rassoul Dastmozd praises the program for addressing the particular needs of first-generation college and underresourced  students.  “Most of our students are New Americans and lack the usual contacts and social networking for getting a job and pursuing a career, so this helps them get in front of employers and the community,” he said.  

Hennepin County has also been a strong supporter of the Partnership’s health careers pathways and the C3 Fellows program.  The county’s recent director of workforce development, Mike Christenson, applied the pathways model to 23 different career job tracks, and placed 1,100 young people in rewarding part-time jobs since 2014. This will benefit businesses facing shortages of skilled workers over the next few years as swelling numbers of baby boomers retire, Christenson says.

New opportunities in the growing health care field

In late 2017, CCAP launched the Nursing Initiative to help working RNs earn their four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which the health care industry now favors in hiring and promotion. Fifty-five percent of an expected 6,500 health care openings in the Central Corridor over the next five years will be for BSN nurses, says CCAP’s Louis Smith.

Garden Fresh Farms
Image courtesy of Garden Fresh Farms
Garden Fresh Farms is a Central Corridor Anchor Partnership procurement partner.
“This program opens a new range of well-paying jobs for nurses from communities of color and low-income areas” who can continue to work while they are in school, said  Greg Mellas, director of community engagement at Metro State. Forty percent of the cost will be paid by their employer, 30 percent by the Otto Bremer Foundation and 30 percent by the student. Participating schools are Augsburg, Metro State and St. Kate’s.

Meanwhile, the Urban Scrubs Camp motivates high school students to imagine themselves in jobs they may not even know exist. It’s a weeklong introduction to a wide range of health-care careers taught by local professionals in the field. The camp takes  place each summer at Saint Paul College and Augsburg. For many participants, 70 percent of whom are students of color, it’s their first ever experience on a college campus.

“These programs open their eyes to what’s possible,” says Laura Beeth, Fairview’s vice-president of talent acquisition. “This is one way to help bridge the opportunity gap in education and wages we have here in the Twin Cities.”

“It’s a real challenge to meet our future workforce needs in health care, and it really matters for our region’s economy,” adds Regions Hospital President and CEO Megan Remark about CCAP’s work. “We need all hands on deck to address this challenge, and we are achieving great results through this partnership that we cannot achieve as individual organizations.”

Jay Walljasper, author of “The Great Neighborhood Book,” writes, speaks and consults about how to create great communities. He is also a Fellow at Augsburg University’s Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship.