In the latter half of the 20th century, Baltimore’s economy transitioned from a goods-producing one, dominated by steelmaking, shipbuilding, auto production and other heavy industries, to one entailing the provision of services. Some of us began to call it the “Eds, Meds, and Feds” economy, referring to the significant impact of our major educational institutions, our hospitals and other health care facilities, and the heavy presence of agencies of the federal government in the city and the wider region.
These Eds, Meds, and Feds remain the dominant feature of our local economy today. Institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and its hospital system, the University of Maryland and its professional schools located in the heart of Baltimore City’s downtown, along with other colleges and universities, provide tens of thousands of local jobs. Johns Hopkins alone accounted for $3.18 billion in research and development spending in fiscal year 2021, leading the nation, according to the latest annual report of the National Science Foundation on higher education.
Beyond carrying out their primary missions of providing educational services, offering health care, and carrying out research, these institutions have another role as anchor institutions in their surrounding communities.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research has placed a spotlight on the role of anchor institutions. They define anchor institutions as “entities having a large stake in a city, usually through a combination of internal missions and landownership. They also have important economic impacts due to their employment, revenue-garnering and spending patterns. As entities consuming sizable amounts of land, they have an important presence in cities and their neighborhoods.”
And with that important presence, exactly what type of relationship should these institutions have within their respective communities? In Baltimore that takes a variety of forms.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore, which includes the schools of law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work, established an Office of Community Engagement. With a view towards the communities in West Baltimore that border the UMB campus, OCE develops university-wide partnerships with a variety of stakeholders.
They include local K-12 public schools, community organizations, nonprofits, and local businesses. It also assists UMB’s professional schools with coordinating community engagement initiatives. Additionally, OCE coordinates faculty, staff, and student volunteer and service-learning initiatives to respond to needs identified by community partners.
The University has a new physical presence in its Poppleton Street Community Engagement Center. CEC describes itself as a place “where neighbors of all ages come to engage in free quality programs, services, supports, trainings, and activities. Our aim is to provide a safe environment that supports the empowerment of our neighbors while strengthening the neighborhoods of West Baltimore. With this newly renovated space, the CEC is even better equipped to reach and serve more people as we work toward our goal of improving the health and well-being of our neighbors.”
Johns Hopkins has its HopkinsLocal initiative. Set in motion after the urban unrest in 2015, the university and hospital system set goals for hiring locally, expanding opportunities for local minority- and women-owned businesses, and widening its net to establish relationships with city-based vendors, in particular those in the construction field.
In a report issued three years after setting initial goals to “ Build Hire Buy” locally, Hopkins reported that it had exceeded the goals set by the institution. The university and health system had hired more than a thousand city residents, spent $54 million more with local vendors over the 2015 baseline levels, and had made more construction-related contracting opportunities for minorities and women.
When Morgan State University’s President David Wilson first came to Baltimore a little over a decade ago, the sad state of neighborhood shopping opportunities near the Morgan campus was evident to him. The Northwood shopping center, the site of civil rights protests in the 1950s and 1960s, in recent decades had experienced a steep decline.
Wilson made it a mission to revitalize the area. After a long process and with a lead role by the developer, MCB Real Estate, Northwood Commons is providing new vitality for the area with a 30,000 square foot Lidl supermarket, a Barnes and Noble campus bookstore, a Fulton Bank branch, along with other retail and restaurants.
These institutions and others, whether it’s Loyola University, with its long-term involvement with the communities in the York Road Corridor, or Coppin State University, which just celebrated the opening of its new $45.8 million College of Business building along West North Avenue, recognize that their missions include operating in ways that extend well beyond the extent of their campus footprints and that will enhance the lives of their neighbors.
Joe Nathanson is the retired principal of Urban Information Associates, a Baltimore-based economic and community development consulting firm. He can be contacted at [email protected]