The Hutchinson Community Foundation is a publicly supported philanthropic organization dedicated to ensuring a brighter future for Hutchinson, a salt mining city that is the seat of Reno County, Kansas. Recognizing that the population of Hutchinson is aging, the foundation recently tasked students in MIT Sloan’s USA Lab to explore ways to attract young, working families to the city.
MBA students Rachel Morpeth and Taylor Walker teamed up with Jordan Owen, a dual master candidate in Real Estate Development and City Planning, to address this challenge by examining one key driver identified by the foundation: the lack of quality, affordable housing.
This project was so exciting for the team because there was no step-by-step syllabus for us to follow, we needed to go out in the world and figure it out.
The students began by diving into census data, county budgets, and case studies to learn more about Hutchinson. They also interviewed a broad range of community members, including local housing officials, nonprofit leaders, and real estate experts. Walker focused on marketing tactics and perks to attract young families, Morpeth explored anti-displacement policies and ways to ease the home-buying process, and Owen focused on the real estate and affordability component.
Then, the students performed a detailed spatial analysis to determine what kind of housing might benefit all Hutchinson stakeholders and revitalize the downtown area. They even provided the foundation with a list of ideal development locations in the city to help the community focus its rehabilitation efforts.
Ultimately, the students left the foundation with three detailed recommendations for drawing more families to Hutchinson. These centered on marketing the city more effectively, making home-buying easier while mitigating displacement, and focusing development on areas that are aging or overlooked.
The students’ outside perspective and curiosity validated some of the ideas that have been on the table for a while around housing, illuminating new gaps and potential for progress and collaboration.
The Hutchinson Community Foundation is continuing to assess and implement the recommendations, but the work has already helped local housing development organizations make the case for funding.
As for the USA Lab students who worked with the foundation, all say they found the project personally rewarding. “The impact that one can have working with a small community is impressive and highly fulfilling,” Owen says. “We learned how important it is to work toward something meaningful and how powerful human creativity is.”
It is easy to get caught up in this mindset of ‘how can we fix anything in this country when we all have completely different perspectives about how society should look?’ Hutch taught me that this richness of perspectives is exactly what breeds the needed creativity to develop well-rounded, sustainable solutions for the long term.
Walker was inspired to see so many people creating change in Hutchinson.
This project reminded me of the importance of being engaged in the local government and fulfilling each of our civic duties. It definitely sparked thoughts around my own home city and how I can drive impact.