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.

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Six Jurisdictions Selected for PAW Incubator 

On June 23, 2022, GFOA (through its Rethinking Revenue initiative), the Sorenson Impact Center, and Urban3 announced six jurisdictions have been selected for the inaugural Putting Assets to Work (PAW) Incubator out of an extremely competitive applicant pool:

  • the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Resilience Authority, in Annapolis, MD, and Anne Arundel County, MD;
  • the City of Atlanta, GA; 
  • the City of Chattanooga, TN; 
  • the City of Cleveland, OH; 
  • Harris County, TX; and 
  • the City of Lancaster, CA.

The municipalities come from coast to coast, have leaders across the political spectrum, and elevate different priorities – but all see the promise in this innovation. 

These localities will now embark on a 10-month-long fact-finding mission to identify, map, and plan uses for underutilized assets in their respective jurisdictions that could be suitable for private investment, with social and environmental benefits to the communities. 

Proposed uses of the new revenue that could be generated from developing assets in these communities include affordable housing, supports for small businesses, childcare access, transportation investments, and climate resilience. 

Click here for the press release.

Civic leaders heartily welcomed the news:

Annapolis and Anne Arundel Co., MD

“Anne Arundel County is honored to be one of the select community partners for the Putting Assets to Work pilot project,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Jr. “The opportunities that result from this project will support local infrastructure development through the new Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Resilience Authority. The combination of these two innovative efforts will help ensure the economic and financial sustainability of our community into the future.”

Atlanta, GA

“The affordability challenges facing Atlanta and other big cities are larger than any one person or entity,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. “Government is at its best with all voices at the table and all hands on deck. We look forward to collaborating with the experts at the PAW Incubator to maximize the efforts of our Affordable Housing Strike Force and leverage our public land to deliver tangible results in equity and affordable housing for the people of Atlanta.”

Chattanooga, TN

“I am thrilled that Chattanooga has been chosen to participate in the Putting Assets to Work Incubator,” said Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “Through this innovative program, we'll have the opportunity to leverage our public assets to fund key initiatives like affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. In short, this groundbreaking program will bring us closer to realizing the vision of One Chattanooga as a place where all residents can thrive and prosper.”

Cleveland, OH

"We are thrilled to be selected for the PAW Incubator. As a native Clevelander, and now as Mayor of this great city, I believe that the city of Cleveland’s real estate assets have tremendous potential," stated Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb. "The incubator presents an incredible opportunity to the city and my administration to leverage our diverse array of city-owned assets by maximizing their use and generating public revenue for the public good. I am committed to this initiative, and am excited for the city to finally put these assets to work—Cleveland can’t wait."

Harris County, TX

“My heart is filled with pride knowing that Harris County was chosen among the inaugural group of recipients for the ‘Putting Assets to Work’ (PAW) incubator program,” shared Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “PAW will help us identify how we can convert property we already own into new development that serves the community well and provides public benefit. Instead of letting undervalued and underutilized spaces collect dust, we will turn them into innovative developments that make the county an even more attractive place to live, work, and play. I want to thank Director Ramirez, the staff at the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity, and the Government Finance Officers Association for their work to make this a reality.”

Lancaster, CA

“I am thrilled that our application to join the PAW incubator has been accepted! Taking the opportunity to turn Lancaster’s assets into revenue for our residents is an exciting and meaningful enterprise,” said City of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “We need to be good stewards of this land and the City of Lancaster is honored to have the opportunity to assess and revitalize areas of Lancaster that currently sit unutilized.”

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 PAW Incubator is made possible by a partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based think tank dedicated to improving quality of life through the effective use, taxation, and stewardship of land; and thanks to support from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt that brings talented people together in networks to prove out their ideas and solve hard problems in science and society.

To Learn More

To learn more about Putting Assets to Work, contact Congressman Ben McAdams. Also, 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.