For the past 30 years, higher education institutions and hospitals have been widely recognized as anchors of regional economies and have therefore been referred to as anchor institutions.1 Their impacts are felt through the large number of people they employ, the local goods and services they purchase, the innovation they spur, and the talent they produce and attract. And, while individual institutions often quantify these impacts in reports to their stakeholders, the total impact of anchor institutions within communities and across the country has not been documented, leaving practitioners, policymakers, and researchers with questions of precisely how important anchors are to regional economies and what the consequences are of relying on anchors for employment and economic output.

To fill these gaps, the Anchor Economy Initiative at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has created the Anchor Economy Dashboard, a new data set and website. The dashboard improves our understanding of anchor institutions’ role in the economy through four main contributions. First, it provides new estimates of the regional economic impacts of the higher education and hospital sectors for the 524 regions that compose the United States. Second, it offers a reliance index that describes each region’s economic dependence on anchor institutions and allows for comparisons of this dependence across regions of different sizes. Third, it supplements these core measures with variables that provide additional context for understanding the importance and role of anchor institutions in regional economies. Last, it provides all of this information as raw data and customizable summaries to allow for direct comparisons of these data points across all regions in the U.S. for the first time.

This report provides an overview of the data contained in the Anchor Economy Dashboard. Our goals are to describe the data, discuss initial insights, and demonstrate the potential of the dashboard for studying the regional and community impacts of anchor institutions. Specifically, in the following sections we explore the characteristics of anchor institutions, their presence in regional economies, their overall economic impacts in regional economies, and the reliance of regional economies on anchor institutions. Our results serve as a foundation for a planned series of reports and future research that will advance discussions around the challenges and opportunities of an anchor-based economy, the impact that disruptions in higher education and health care might have on local economies, and the role of anchor institutions in driving economic equity and opportunity in their communities.

  1. Ira Harkavy and Harmon Zuckerman articulated the role that higher education institutions and hospitals play as “anchor institutions” in Eds and Meds: Cities’ Hidden Assets, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1999.
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