Putting Assets to Work

Local governments are sitting on a virtual gold mine without realizing it. Just as private individuals and corporations use assets (like machines or buildings) to generate income, governments can do the same with their assets.

How It Works

Under various names, this approach has been piloted in several cities across the world already – notably in Hong Kong; Singapore; Hamburg, Germany; and Copenhagen, Denmark, with great success. With the stale impasse of tremendous social needs growing and strained budgets deepening, the time is right to explore the approach here in the U.S.

At a simplified, high-level, the concept is straight-forward:

  • The government identifies the budgetary goal, including infrastructure investment, social or environmental benefit or other need 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.

Then-Mayor Ben McAdams pioneered the early stages of this work in the U.S. in leading Salt Lake County to inventory its public assets. The county discovered a gold mine: the government owned approximately $10 billion in public assets.

“If we are able to improve the public return on our assets even slightly, we can start to address some of the major challenges facing our region like increasing the availability of affordable workforce housing and making investments in our transportation infrastructure, and we can do it without raising taxes,” McAdams remarks.

The County is currently in the process of taking next steps to act on this enormous discovery.

The Incubator

Under the leadership of former Mayor and Congressman McAdams, GFOA, in collaboration with the Sorenson Impact Center at the Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, will host up to five local governments in the U.S. to participate in a nonpartisan one-year Putting Assets to Work Incubator.

Each participating local government will receive a significant return: a world-class asset map that catalogs all public real estate assets in the jurisdiction at the government’s fingertips for possible revenue generation, along with state-of-the-art technical assistance that will equip each participant to:

  1. maximize the use of public real estate assets to generate public revenues for community investment,
  2. deeply understand the feasibility of a Putting Assets to Work initiative specifically in their own jurisdiction, and
  3. receive a proposed governance structure, roadmap and tools for implementation.

The Incubator is made possible thanks to support from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Schmidt Futures.

Want to apply? Applications are due by May 27.

Application InstructionsSubmit Application

To Learn More

To learn more about Putting Assets to Work, consider reading, “Putting Public Assets to Work: Examining the Potential of Urban Wealth Funds for North American Cities,” by Dag Detter and Shayne Kavanaugh, published by the GFOA.

Watch the below webinar about Putting Assets to Work and the Incubator Initiative.