Duke as an anchor institution

What does Duke have to offer the community and the world? This question can be considered in many ways.

  • Duke is the second largest employer in the state of North Carolina, behind only Wal-Mart.  As a large collection of people, Duke has a good deal of power. If every person affiliated with Duke went out and served the community, the collective impact would be huge.
  • As such a large employer, Duke stimulates the economy. The university hires builders for construction projects, expands into new parts of the world, and has a local population that buys food and groceries, rents from local landlords, and starts businesses at a fast rate.
  • Duke also has political power. The university is a powerful entity in the city, owning large amounts of tax-exempt land. Its aforementioned large population votes in local, national, and federal elections. The university attracts residents, and this draw can have particular impacts in a political “swing state” like North Carolina.

Duke isn’t simply a collection of people, though, and the above considerations may be true of all large employers. What makes Duke’s impacts different from, say, Wal-Mart’s? If Duke picked up and moved to another place, how would Durham be affected?

Duke is an “anchor institution” in the region. An anchor institution is deeply rooted in its community: it has an interdependent relationship with the community, is a large and prominent employer, draws residents to an area, and could not easily move elsewhere.

For my master’s thesis, I looked at the ways anchor institutions, including a large public university, affected the Great Bay region in southern New Hampshire. One fact that quickly became clear was that anchor institutions are not simply the sum of their parts. Different types of institutions choose to leverage their talents in different ways. These decisions ultimately help the institution improve the environment in which they operate. For example, Duke’s decision to invest in downtown Durham and help build places such as the American Tobacco Campus helped make the city more livable and vibrant. Ultimately, this livability is likely a benefit not just to Durham but also to Duke, helping to make the city more attractive to prospective students, faculty, and staff.

Duke impacts the community not just because it has a large number of people affiliated with it, but because of the unique talents of those associated with it. This expertise often leads to amenities enjoyed by the public – the Lemur Center, for example, or the Nasher Museum, or the Duke Gardens. Duke’s public scholarship is a major contribution to society. Duke Today’s Opinion section highlights the myriad columns, quotes, and articles Duke experts provide to news outlets nationwide.

Duke’s civic engagement impacts the surrounding area in many ways, through advocacy, innovation, service, engaged scholarship, and community development. We are much more than a collection of people with great manpower, and our impacts go beyond hours of service to the community. Duke’s unique talents, not just its large number of people, help to make the university an anchor in the city and the region.