Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE)

5th May 2016

This case study looks at leveraging the purchasing power of anchor institutions to accelerate local growth


Anchors are institutions, such as universities, hospitals, cultural institutions, government and large private enterprises procuring millions of dollars worth of goods and services and thus acting as engines of economic activity in their communities. However, their complicated procurement processes can make it difficult for local small and mid-sized businesses to compete. Funded through an initial investment from the Polk Bros. Foundation, as well as by contributions from the anchors through annual membership fees, Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) is a matchmaker between anchors as buyers and local businesses as suppliers.

Launched by World Business Chicago in 2014, CASE is a network of leading anchor institutions in Chicago, USA committed to harnessing their collective purchasing power to promote economic vitality across Chicago’s neighbourhoods. Participating anchors analyse their spend in order to identify opportunities to shift spend in favour of competitive local businesses; making information about suitable contracts available through the network. CASE connects small to mid-sized businesses to anchors and resources by offering capacity building and business advisory services.

Since 2014, CASE has generated upwards of $11m in contract opportunities, creating 70 new jobs locally and graduating 200+ small businesses.

“ The CASE programme is unique at three levels; first the diversity of anchors, second the funding model, and last but definitely not least, is the adoption of a data-driven approach to guide the programming.” Nitika Nautiyal, World Business Chicago

Aspirations and objectives

Chicago is home to some of the world’s best universities, hospitals, cultural institutions, public and private enterprises. These ‘anchors’ engage in a large volume of business-to-business transactions, procuring billions of dollars worth of goods and services each year.

CASE is a network of leading anchor institutions committed to harnessing their collective purchasing power to promote economic vitality across Chicago’s neighbourhoods. These institutions work to create economic opportunities for local suppliers by fostering strategic relationships with these businesses, equipping them with the necessary tools to successfully compete for contracts, and adding new revenue and jobs into the regional economy. This strengthens the existing small business ecosystem, empowering local businesses, and creating inclusive and sustainable economic growth.


CASE is a demand-driven programme where
participating anchors analyse their spend to identify opportunities to redirect a portion of it to competitive local businesses. They then make information concerning these opportunities available through CASE, helping to connect local firms to contracts. On the supply side, CASE offers business services and support programmes to local suppliers and places them into three service levels depending on their size, tenure and capabilities:

  • Level 1: Businesses that are considered mature enough are matched directly with anchors, with the potential to practise sales pitches with business consultants.
  • Level 2: Businesses that require additional experience are signposted to local business support services.
  • Level 3: Potential suppliers requiring additional support are enrolled on a capacity building programme, where consultants facilitate three-day workshops for five groups of 20 local CEOs each year, covering topics including seeking and winning contracts, strategic planning, securing growth capital, leadership and managerial skills and enhancing marketing and sales initiatives.

Outcomes and impact

Since 2014, 15 anchors representing the public and private sectors committed to the network. These institutions contribute financially and provide strategic direction for the business advisory programme, while in turn benefitting from improved access to competitive local suppliers as well as the heightened demand and vitality amongst the local community.

CASE has generated upwards of $11m in contract opportunities and created 70 new jobs locally, focussing on high-demand occupations that offer greater opportunity for career advancement.

CASE has graduated 209 small businesses. Local firms participating in the programme report growth in new business and diversification of their revenue base, enabling them to successfully tap into opportunities with local anchors, while also building their business and technical expertise.

CASE comprises a key part of Chicago’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, helping to build a stronger business-to-business platform; attract, retain and grow businesses and institutions; create jobs and drive local economic growth.

Measuring success

  1. 15 anchor institutions committed in 2015
  2. More than $11m in contract opportunities
  3. 70 new jobs created
  4. 209 small businesses graduated from CASE workshops

Lessons learned

“Anchor commitment is where it all starts – you need the buyers at the table first, getting a local foundation’s support that values people and neighbourhoods is the critical next step to get the idea off the ground. We realised that while data is the key to designing effective programming, sustainability of the programme depends on creating value for key stakeholders. Lastly, it is extremely important to strengthen the existing small business ecosystem by identifying, supporting and collaborating with the best service providers.” Deborah E. Bennett, Senior Program Officer, Polk Bros. Foundation