University of Wisconsin–Madison

Building Resiliency: The Role of Anchor Institutions in Sustaining Community Economic Development

Type Policy Brief or Report
Year 2013
Level County
State(s) All States
Policy Areas Children & Families, Civil Rights, Democracy & Governance, Economic Justice, Education, Environment & Natural Resources, Health
Chester, Pennsylvania, a small, formerly industrial city located on the Delaware River, not far from Philadelphia, exemplifies the problems and possibilities faced by older manufacturing cities across the United States, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Chester's problems of poverty, stagnation, and unemployment stem from the late 20th-century decline of an industrial economy in the United States - which in Chester was primarily centered on automobile manufacturing and shipbuilding - and the flight of the more affluent residents to the suburbs. The remaining residents face high poverty, high unemployment, a crumbling infrastructure, lack of services and businesses, and underperforming schools. There is hope, however. Although the Federal Reserve Bank classifies Chester as a "struggling city," Chester also embodies the possibilities in the concept of resilience defined as "the individual and collective capacity to respond to adversity and change." The project of turning Chester around is a work in progress, but Chester is also a community that has taken intentional action "to enhance the personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to and influence the course of social and economic change." In fact, Chester, and one of its key partners in community revitalization, Widener University, can serve as a case study of what building resilience can look like in the face of daunting challenges.

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