Revolving door shuffles government workers into sharing economy

Former PDC executive director Patrick Quinton resurfaced in the news this week as the cofounder of Dweller, a startup that builds and rents accessory dwelling units. 

Dweller is one of a growing number of companies that aim to leverage small homes as a solution to the affordable housing crisis.OMMXfa3z 400x400

Quinton’s new job is a natural extension of his government work on housing and urban development.  The career change also aligns the former commission chief with a new trend: former government employees now working in so-called new economy or sharing economy businesses.

One of the earliest and most prominent examples is David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s former campaign aide. Plouffe left national politics in 2014 to take a job as a policy advisor* for Uber.

Another former Obama official, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, is now employed by Airbnb, where he is helping the housing rental company craft anti discrimination policies.

Closer to home, Sean Robbins arguably falls into this category.AAEAAQAAAAAAAAiGAAAAJDcxODMzNTU4LWJkNzctNDE0ZS1iNGNkLWFmMjM4ZmZiYzBjNA

Oregon’s former chief economic development officer and executive director of Greater Portland Inc. is now vice president of government affairs for Cambia Health Solutions, a health care company that is spinning off consumer and app-based health care startups.

Eva Behrend, a communications director for Uber’s West Coast operations, used to work as a staffer for an L.A. councilwoman.

I remember Behrend telling me two years ago (as Uber was preparing its stealth move into Portland) that she left the public sector because she viewed the private sector as a more efficient agent of social change.


The growing number of government officials and staffers moving into sharing businesses spotlights a new variation on a common career track theme. After all, it's a time-honored practice for former government workers to sign on as private sector lobbyists, strategists and consultants.

That revolving door still exists, as do the concomitant ethics issues. 

But about that variation: The 21-st century model underscores both the lure of new economy businesses and the challenges facing a severely resource-constrained public sector. 

As government money dries up, innovative for profits will play a larger role helping solve such pressing social and economic challenges as transportation and affordable housing. 

Quinton’s company fits the bill. Screen Shot 2017 03 15 at 1.37.19 PM

To make accessory dwelling units affordable for homeowners, Dweller will build the ADUs, rent them out — and then pocket a share of the lease income.

As Quinton tests his chops as sharing economy startup founder, his former employer is also trying to become more entrepreneurial.  Urban renewal districts are winding down, and to generate new revenue PDC is exploring new private sector projects such as owning parking garages or helping develop the Pearl District post office site.

*Plouffe recently left Uber to work for the Chan Zuckerberg philanthropy initiative.


Linda Baker

Linda Baker is the editor of Oregon Business

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