Putting Assets to Work

To any local leader who is considering Putting Assets to Work, I would ask them: what problem in your city are you trying to solve right now that you need more resources for? Let me show you how your land can help you!” - Josh Humphries, Senior Housing Policy Advisor to Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens

Every local government in America owns immense amounts of property, structures, and other assets that they may not know how to fully utilize. In some cases, they may not even know what they own. In other words, every local government knows its own operating budget - but very few know how much they are actually worth.

PAW is a process where we help them understand exactly what they have, what it’s worth, and how that value can be leveraged to fund residents’ priorities.

Known in some circles as “urban wealth funds,” cities may utilize their assets differently or monetize the assets for revenues to provide for the public good. Governments can place their assets under professional management with clear oversight from local elected officials. These funds have been used by governments in Europe and Southeast Asia to generate billions of dollars to fund local infrastructure while maintaining public control of these local assets.

In recent years, some local governments in North America have also begun to explore urban wealth funds as a transparent and innovative method for complementing local revenues without raising taxes.

Through Putting Assets to Work, GFOA and its partners, including the Common Ground Institute and Urban3, are growing the network of local governments who are collaborating with their residents on new ways to fund local priorities.

Additional Details

The concept is straightforward:

-The government identifies a budgetary goal or community benefit, including infrastructure investment, social or environmental benefit, or other needs it wants to fund with additional revenue.

-In partnership with experts specializing in this work, the government inventories all publicly owned assets in a jurisdiction. Typically, the value of publicly owned assets far exceeds estimates, which are usually developed using the historical cost of purchase, not current market value.

-The government identifies one or more of those assets that are underutilized to be developed to their highest and best use within parameters set by policymakers.

-The government uses internal or external expertise to improve, manage and maintain the asset.

-The additional value/revenue that is created is transferred to the public in the form of concrete benefits, identified in the first step.

-Government and outside entities provide oversight throughout the process.

Simply put, a lot of local governments are sitting on a gold mine and don’t know it. PAW uses data and analysis as picks and shovels to help local leaders dig in.” - Ben McAdams, former member of Congress and former Salt Lake County Mayor

Using the monetary value of publicly-held assets in innovative ways is not necessarily a new idea. In fact, its been utilized in Europe and Asia successfully for many years. Our work owes a distinct debt of gratitude to Dag Detter, the Swedish advisor who’s 2017 book, The Public Wealth of Cities: How to Unlock Hidden Assets to Boost Growth and Prosperity, did a great deal to popularize this concept in the United States.

Former Mayor and former Congressman Ben McAdams, now a GFOA Fellow leading the Putting Assets to Work initiative, pioneered the early stages of this work in Salt Lake County by conducting an inventory of its public real estate assets. The county discovered a gold mine: approximately $10 billion in underutilized public real estate.

What could your community find?

PAW will accept applications from local governments of any size and in any region of the country. There are no prerequisites around minimum (or maximum) populations or budget size for applicants. We’ve worked with suburban cities as small as 72,000 people and some of the largest county governments in the country. 

Please note that applications must come from a governmental body that is responsible for a geographic jurisdiction – for instance, a city, county, school district, or state). In some select cases, a quasi-governmental entity such as a resilience authority or other organization legally capable of holding property and issuing debt. Send an email to staff@cgileader.com and put “PAW applicant” in the subject line if you have specific questions before applying. 

The latest cohort, which launched in September 2023, includes the cities of Austin, Texas; Evanston, Illinois; Mt. Vernon, New York; and Sugar Land, Texas. The program lasts for approximately six months.

Cost range depends on size of jurisdiction and range from $125,00 to $190,000. Applicants’ cost may also be reduced if they have worked previously with Urban3.

The program is supported by its participants and GFOA’s members. No third-party groups will see or have access to your city’s data without your explicit awareness and permission.

Certainly! Each community will decide how to use the value of their assets in different ways – some will hire outside wealth managers to help them steward these resources while others may form new quasi-governmental organizations to issue debt against them. We recognize that the specifics of these approaches will vary from place to place, and each will require ongoing technical assistance and support.

In any case, rest assured - we will be glad to discuss exactly what you need and how GFOA and its partners can help when the time comes.

If you are an elected official or employee of a local government, click here for full application instructions. If you are a resident, business owner, or other stakeholder and think that this program could benefit your community, we encourage you to reach out to your local city council representative, mayor, county executive, or other local leader and ask them to apply! If you need any more information before choosing to apply, please contact us at staff@cgileader.com.

Putting Assets to Work is led by a team of experienced policy professionals with decades of combined experience in local and state government.