Lynchburg leaders plan to engage "anchor institutions" for economic growth

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- At the University of Lynchburg, they say they do not take their namesake for granted.

"It is one of the most important things in the institution,” said Dr. Kenneth Garren, president of the university. “I have never seen an institution that was more outwardly focused than the University of Lynchburg.”

Founded in 1903, the university is considered one of the city's “anchor institutions.”

"Our anchor institutions care a lot about community development because, frankly, the environment impacts them, right?" explained Steven Pedigo, a consultant hired by the city to work on a “Blueprint for Opportunity.”

The blueprint is a plan through 2023 for economic growth in Lynchburg. Goal two of the plan is focused on the anchor institutions.

Pedigo described a city’s anchors as universities, healthcare institutions, cultural facilities and large scale real estate developments. He said that the institutions hold significant investments in the community and have a major impact on revitalization.

City leaders have identified all of Lynchburg’s colleges, universities and the healthcare system as anchor institutions.

"You are a ‘meds and eds’ town. A significant amount of your employment is centered in healthcare and educational institutions and so this question of collaboration is important,” said Pedigo in a presentation to members of city council Tuesday afternoon.

The city has already been working on leveraging relationships with some of these institutions. Nine years ago council members had the idea to start a Town and Gown, a yearly meeting with university and college presidents and stakeholders.

“I did not see it in terms of anchors and clusters, I saw it in the context of valuable resources and assets having six colleges and universities in this area,” said Council-member Randy Nelson. "We needed to get that synergy going.”

The goal of the blueprint is to take that to the next level: formalize the relationships, pull in Centra Health and set goals together. The goals could range from partnership programs to future investment.

"There certainly could be a Memorandum of Understanding that could talk about city investment in a certain area if the anchor institution was willing to invest in an area that was meaningful for them as well,” proposed Council-member Turner Perrow.

The team will also evaluate partnerships across the anchor institutions to see where some of this work is already happening.

Dr. Garren said it is something the university has been informally doing for quite some time, partnering with city schools and other anchor institutions like Centra.

"By working as a team we all become stronger,” said Garren.

The city is planning on being intentional about the various partnerships moving forward. Wednesday, the Office of Economic Development will meet with representatives from all of the anchor institutions.

"We have an incredible opportunity because of all of the institutions we have here to do some groundbreaking work, but it will be with all of us at the table," said Marjette Upshur, Director of the Office of Economic Development and Tourism.