Economic Diversification Roadmap: Land Inventories and Leveraging Underutilized Parcels

An important strategy for economic diversification and development is to attract new business or industry to an area, and this is especially true when redeveloping existing underutilized land. Examples of underutilized land are sites with a condemned, vacant building, a brownfield, or a vacant greenfield. Many times, these underutilized sites present opportunities for profitable economic development and can support growth in an industry-reliant community, such as those that host nuclear power plants.

Who should use this whitepaper?

  • Local elected officials
  • Municipal planners
  • Economic development managers
  • Zoning Board representatives

Vacant or underutilized parcels can have a number of negative impacts on a community, e.g. increased blight and crime, decreased property values, environmental concerns, reduced tax revenue, and lost economic opportunities. These properties are often referred to as “brownfields” which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines as, “a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Regardless of official brownfield designation, there are a number of strategies to address these underutilized properties including targeted redevelopment initiatives, property tax incentives, and land inventories.

Summary of Technical Assistance Work – Case Study 

South Jersey Economic Development District, Salem County, New Jersey

Many communities have underutilized or vacant land that is suitable for new economic uses but do not have the resources or the capacity to identify these areas for investment. Additionally, these communities may not have analyzed the potential economic impacts of different development scenarios.

Salem County, New Jersey identified several areas for potential growth that they believed would be suitable for new investments, but did not have the capacity for further economic impact analyses. To fill this gap, the Nuclear Communities TA team conducted an inventory and evaluation of underutilized land in the County and recommended the County consider redeveloping two large brownfield sites that had the greatest potential to induce valuable economic activity. The analysis showed that projected job creation and additional tax revenue generated from these sites justified the initial investment costs.

The anticipated impact in terms of new jobs and tax revenues was the creation of 185 jobs and $102,448 in revenue resulting from a $10 million initial investment. The area could also choose to invest in additional sites as they increase their capacity over time, thus benefiting from the jobs and increased tax revenue generated from multiple sites. Investments between $1.25 and $10 million were modeled using IMPLAN economic software to demonstrate the scale and impact of investment, showing county officials that they could invest whatever amount was necessary and appropriate for the particular needs of each site.1

In addition to attracting new manufacturing uses, other potential regional economic development strategies for redeveloped vacant or underutilized sites in Salem County were:

  1. Job training/retraining or workforce development;
  2. An entrepreneurial center/maker space to support new economies;
  3. Off-shore wind assemblage;
  4. Downtown revitalization.

The land inventory process

Conducting a land inventory (a comprehensive survey that evaluates how a community’s land is being used), is an important process in understanding whether land is being used at its highest and best use. Land inventories are an important tool for providing a detailed understanding of land use patterns and identifying underutilized properties for future development or conservation. Such inventories, if the land were to be redeveloped, could support economic development by creating new opportunities for economic growth.

To evaluate underutilized land for the highest and best use, a community will need to gather data, including prior community-specific plans (e.g. Comprehensive Plans, Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS), neighborhood plans) and area-specific plans such as opportunity zones, smart growth areas, and registered or known brownfield sites to local, state or federal agencies. It is also important to use up-to-date parcel information for the area, including assessed value per acre, zoning designations, and land uses.

Step 1: Create a “Summary of Area Land Inventory” for each available site which includes:

Type of Land Available


Aggregate Parcel Information


Average assessed value (per parcel) including land with an improved value, or a structure built on the land; and land without an improved value, or vacant land

Calculate the value of land by acreage and convert it to a percentage of total land value

Land in potential development areas

Total value of land in potential development areas

Total available land in the area

Total value of all available land

Step 2: Once the parcel and land information is aggregated, a community must then identify preferred locations for development. These locations should consider several factors before selecting sites for redevelopment:

  • Existing infrastructure
    • Roads, sewers, water lines, highways, railroads2
  • Potential and existing residential density
    • How many residents and workers could live near (anywhere up to 20 miles) the proposed development site?
  • Current/proposed zoning
    • Does the current zoning align with the potential use of the redeveloped land or will the project have to undergo rezoning that could impact prior planning efforts or community wishes?


Step 3: Once a community has selected a site(s) for development, the next step is to conduct a fiscal hotspot analysis in ArcGIS Pro with parcel values normalized on a per-acre basis. This analysis will utilize the previously compiled land inventory and will identify clusters of highly valued parcels, representing areas in the community that are generating substantial economic activity. This ensures the selected site maximizes its economic potential by being situated near other areas that are generating net economic activity.

Step 4: Lastly, a community needs to undertake an analysis of the economic impact of that development. One option is to utilize IMPLAN software or the REMI model.3 However, there is a cost associated with this decision, and communities should consider if the benefits of this data outweigh the cost. It is also possible for a community to design its own, simpler impact model by analyzing potential tax revenue and jobs associated with a certain development scenario. This can be done by gathering local data on tax revenues and analyzing case studies of similar projects to predict the potential economic impact of a given project.

The results of the analysis should be documented in a comprehensive report that includes detailed information on the land inventory, selected development site(s), and results of the economic analysis. Visuals such as maps and photographs of the area can convey relevant information to stakeholders in an accessible way. This report can be used to inform future land use planning and economic decision-making processes, as well as to communicate with stakeholders and the public about local land value and potential future land uses.

This resource is part of the Community Economic Diversification Roadmap, a new tool created by Smart Growth America and the Nuclear Communities TA team, to support communities in planning for the challenges and opportunities that stem from hosting energy infrastructure.

Economic development