Introducing our Anchor Strategy Practice Area Leader: Tatianna Swenda
Tatianna’s deep background with geospatial analysis and data science helps her see what others can’t. This is especially useful when helping anchor strategies build strategies that leverage their procurement, hiring, and capital budgets in ways that benefit their employees, staff members, and greater communities – as well as their own bottom lines.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR U3 ADVISORS?
I am the anchor strategy practice lead. I have experience working in all stages of an anchor strategy, from conducting initial feasibility studies, to assessing what their potential is, to designing and implementing strategies and programs. We work to get anchor institutions to leverage the economic power that they have to create opportunities for their communities.
HOW DOES THAT WORK?
Usually that manifests in Hire Local, Buy Local, and Live Local programs. For instance, Buy Local – that’s working with procurement departments, getting a lot of data, getting a sense of what institutions are buying, what their demand is, and how much of that is leaving their market area. Then we can use that data to create customized action plans for buying more goods and services with local and minority firms.
Another example is assessing where all of their employees and students live and coming up with strategies for incentivizing them to live closer to work, reducing their commute, and reducing their carbon footprint. There are lots of benefits to the community, the people, and the employer.
HOW DID YOU GET THERE?
I was a student at what was then Philadelphia University, what is now Thomas Jefferson University. Initially I got my Bachelor’s Degree in architecture and then a graduate degree in geospatial technology – looking at a lot of data and doing demographic and socioeconomic analysis and things like that. And when I was a student, Shea O’Neill was my professor. He was looking for interns at U3, so I applied.
Later, when I was interviewing with Alex [Feldman] and Shea, I was trying to understand, What does an economic and real estate development consultant do, exactly? So they shared with me the Midtown anchor strategy work [in Detroit] that was our flagship project at the time. I remember thinking to myself: This is what I want to do with my life.
WHAT WAS SO APPEALING TO YOU ABOUT THE WORK?
For me, it was using data for community development. We got all this data, we told this story, we had this vision, and we implemented the vision. As a result, a lot of minority-owned and women-owned businesses got to benefit from our strategies. A lot of lower-income employees got to receive housing assistance. There are a lot of folks who typically can’t get their foot in the door with hiring, but we’re now working on strategies to create pipelines to attract that talent. It just felt like this is good work at the end of the day. It’s really important to me to feel like I’m doing some good in this world, I feel like we’re doing good
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU FOCUSED ON CURRENTLY?
The Memphis Medical District anchor strategy. When I started as an intern, I was making maps for that project, when it was in its very early phases. We were just beginning to convene the anchors around the idea of there being a Memphis Medical District Collaborative. That project is where I grew up professionally at U3. I launched a Live Local program and a Hire Local program; Shea launched a Buy Local program. I also like working with Rutgers University on strategies to buy more goods and services from minority and women-owned businesses, and I’m also working on the same project with Detroit; that’s a collaborative of about 11 corporations that we’re trying to get to do the same thing. We’re going through the data analysis phase of that. We’re working with the University of Pittsburgh on workforce development initiatives. They’re surrounded by these communities that have been historically overlooked or isolated, so we’re trying to work to bring some economic opportunities back to them as well.
IS IT DIFFICULT TO SELL CLIENTS ON THESE KINDS OF STRATEGIES? IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN AT U3, ARE THEY MORE RECEPTIVE TO WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO DO?
The the racial awakening that our nation has gone through since the murder of George Floyd – and the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on small businesses – have actually helped us make the case for this work. It’s a bit easier now to go to teams and talk about racial equity and why it’s important to make opportunities for certain communities that have been systematically disadvantaged for a very long time by design. Before, it may have been an uphill battle to try to get a Board of Directors to think about racial equity or environmental equity. Having these circumstances happening nationwide means that every company is now all about diversity and inclusion and equity. Everyone is really investing resources and hiring, and they’re paying attention to that – which is what we’ve been doing.
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS WORK MATTERS SO MUCH?
Our country just hasn’t generated enough for all. There have just been too many socio economic imbalances. With my history and my expertise, I’m just really aware of that. So I like the fact that we’re working institutions to pay attention to that – and start doing what they can to fix it. We can say, We’ve looked at all your data – and here’s what you can do to fulfill your mission. So I feel like the practice area that I’m in, I’m helping to the most good.
We’re really actively thinking about what is anchor strategy 2.0. What’s the next phase of our anchor strategy? What are the next set of verticals within that where we need to be working? One example may be Invest Local – making sure that we’re investing in minority-owned development firms and things like that. What does Build Local look like? How can we work with your capital improvement projects? How can we make those opportunities for the local, disadvantaged communities that we want to work with? I’m just really actively thinking about what’s next for us.