Western Mass Economic Development Council announces new “Anchor Collaborative” focused on local, diverse sourcing and employment

Over the last several months some of the region’s largest businesses have met to discuss how they can leverage their own institutional and operational resources to address problems caused by historic segregation and disinvestment in low-income communities and to grow the regional economy.  As a result, Baystate Health, Big Y, The City of Springfield, The City of Holyoke, United Personnel, University of Massachusetts/Amherst, Springfield College, Holyoke Community College, Comcast, and Bay Path University have formed the Western Massachusetts Anchor Collaborative through the leadership of the EDC. An “anchor” strategy is one where institutions commit to serving as place-based economic engines by using their institutional purchasing, hiring, and investing in intentional, locally-focused ways.  The goal is to mutually benefit the long-term well-being of both businesses and the communities they operate in.

Broader economic and social factors have prevented the region from thriving, including persistent and systemic social and economic inequities. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing challenges. For example, as of June 2020, unemployment in key Springfield neighborhoods ranged from 15-23%, with many industries reducing their workforce in response to pandemic-related downturns in business.  It is estimated nationally that roughly one in five (or 420,000) small businesses have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. These closures have disproportionately impacted small businesses owned by immigrants, women, and Black, Latinx, and Asian individuals, all of which have experienced higher rates of closures. The economic impact of the pandemic has also been particularly devastating for communities of color in terms of loss of savings, health and health care challenges, food insecurity and housing instability, caregiving gaps and disruptions in educational paths.

The Anchor Collaborative was initiated to provide comprehensive, systemic, and locally-led solutions to these business and workforce challenges. By being more intentional about how they do business, Anchor Collaborative institutions seek to address inequities that have resulted from historic patterns of disinvestment and bias related to neighborhood, race and ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status here in Western Massachusetts.  Dr. Mark Keroack, President and CEO of Baystate Health said, “Baystate is all in on the Anchor Collaborative.  As we pursue our mission to improve the health of all in the communities we serve in Western Massachusetts, we are mindful that the health disparities and poor outcomes of many low-income and communities of color are linked to root causes and historic patterns of bias and lack of economic opportunity.  That is why our strategy as an anchor institution looks beyond the provision of health services toward addressing the social and economic factors that influence health.  Our efforts will include increased local diverse procurement of goods and services, increased diverse hiring, and a focused investment in the promotion of low- and moderate-income workers from historically marginalized populations and communities.  We believe that building community wealth and opportunity will directly impact the health and wellbeing of these communities and help us achieve the equity that is at the heart of our mission.”

Anchor institutions act as regional economic engines: they require consistent, large volume purchases, are significant employers in the region and are investors in their communities.  The mission of anchors is to foster equitable communities, strong local economies, jobs and healthier employees and residents, while also addressing their own institutions’ needs around hiring, retention, and internal advancement, as well as resilient local suppliers.  UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy said, “UMass Amherst is committed to addressing structural racism and bias, and the consequences that negatively affect both our campus and the broader community. We demonstrate this commitment by continually challenging ourselves to do more. By being intentional about whom we hire, where we purchase, and how we invest, we are making meaningful and measurable changes. We are proud to be part of the Anchor Collaborative, working together to foster social and economic justice within our living and learning community and throughout Western Massachusetts.

As the Collaborative begins its work, institutions will determine baselines and set multi-year targets to increase overall local procurement spend as well as women and minority owned business spend, which will increase contracts for local businesses and help grow women and minority businesses.  Similar baselines and targets will propel hiring and promotions for under-represented populations within their institutions.  The Collaborative is creating shared strategies to work together to measure progress and impact.  As it grows it will partner with foundations, public, and private organizations to fund local business development, skills trainings, and job creation.  Charlie D’Amour, President and Chief Executive Officer of Big Y Foods said, “At Big Y we are actively trying to promote diversity, provide opportunities for disadvantaged employees, and source local, as are other anchor institutions.  We all have a lot to learn from each other. There are areas we are doing well and others where we are not doing enough but we are striving to get better.  By getting the anchor institutions to agree on common goals and metrics we can learn from each other, share best practices.  We can work together and have a greater impact on local communities, which will also help us address some of the key needs our institutions have around sourcing and hiring. 

Activities will target both Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) entitlement neighborhoods (a federal designation for disadvantaged neighborhoods) and other local areas, thereby growing our regional-economic eco-system.