City seeks more collaboration among anchor institutions


By John Larson

Seeking to harness the power of collaboration among important organizations in the community, the city has spent that past three years working on what they call the Tacoma Anchor Institutions Network.

Tanisha Jumper, director of the city’s Media and Communications Office, provided an update during the Sept. 17 meeting of the Tacoma City Council Government Performance and Finance Committee.

An anchor institution is defined as an organization that is a large employer with a significant investment in the community. By their nature, these organizations cannot pack up and move, such as a hospital or a college. They are uniquely positioned to address economic disparities by focusing on employment and workforce development strategies. The partners so far are: MultiCare Health Systems, CHI Franciscan Health, University of Puget Sound, University of Washington-Tacoma, Bates Technical College, Tacoma Community College, Tacoma Public Schools and Tacoma Housing Authority.

The effort began in 2016 with a visit to Cleveland by representatives of Tacoma Public Schools and local hospitals. They visited a high school with a focus on preparing students for careers in the medical field. A group of city visited Cleveland soon after. In 2017 the city hired The Democracy Collaborative to explore a strategy for how such an effort could work in Tacoma.

Jumper mentioned a grocery store in New Orleans as an example of what such collaboration can produce. A large store had sat vacant after suffering serious damage from flooding. Whole Foods was convinced to lease half of the space for a grocery store, while Tulane University took over the other half for a program that teaches doctors in healthy cooking techniques, in order for them to pass along the knowledge to their patients. A project in Baltimore focused on creating affordable housing.

The area around the Cleveland Clinic had poor health outcomes for residents, including short life spans. A collaborative effort addressed this, with efforts to boost educational achievement and home ownership.

As an example of a possible project in Tacoma, Jumper mentioned bus routes and schedules and how they can be improved to help workers with their commutes. A large employer such as MultiCare could contact Pierce Transit with a request to alter routes or schedules. If 10 other major employers joined the conversation, it would make a more compelling argument, she explained.

A meeting in August led to the formation of three teams, focusing on leadership, local hiring and local procurement. The next meeting will take place in Octobers. A memorandum of understanding and a set of goals will be established by the end of this year, with the network to launch in 2020.

“What we are embarking on is the construction of an infrastructure,” said Councilmember Anders Ibsen.

Councilmember Keith Blocker said he would like Metro Parks to join the partnership. Jumper said they are not a member of the network, although a staff person from Metro Parks attended the last planning session. “I hope we can work them in somewhere,” Blocker remarked.

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