Public docs: Not just for finding public construction projects

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Because Curate scans through public minutes and agendas, one of the biggest misconceptions people have is we only find information on upcoming public construction projects, such as a new firehouse or town hall.

But, this isn’t the case!

While it is true public construction ops pop up in discussions during public municipality meetings, about 80 percent of the projects we get info on each week are actually private construction opportunities.

Think about it this way: All exterior projects have to go through a planning commission to get approved — everything from facade renovations to ground-up construction.

This means Curate is at the bottleneck of all early-stage projects, both public and private.

Minutes and agendas are sprinkled with what we call “half-baked” information, such as rezoning from agricultural to commercial or a request for approval of a site plan that’s 56 acres.

More often than for public projects, this information indicates upcoming private construction projects.

But, it’s easier for early-stage private projects to go unnoticed before it’s too late, i.e. before a contract has been awarded, which is why this “half-baked” information is super valuable for detecting them, like a canary in a coal mine.

You can’t spot the canaries, however, if you aren’t at their level — the actual board meetings, that is.

Planning commissions across your state approve dozens of plans for new private construction projects every week, from manufacturing facilities to business-park offices to apartment complexes.

For example, just this past week, Curate found 18 large-scale (>20,000 square feet) multi-family, multi-use, retail and office projects in the Minneapolis planning commission minutes.

These private projects were completely new in our database, meaning it was the first time the plans were discussed during that planning commission.

And since all projects go to local municipalities to get approval first, this also means the plans typically haven’t reached the eyes of newspaper readers or the ears of competing general contractors.

Lucky for us, our software spot the canary, and as the saying goes: Early bird gets the worm.

Harnessing the power of minutes and agendas in the construction industry

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When it comes to new construction projects, knowing any of the relevant information early on can mean the difference between winning and losing the contract among general contractors and vendors.

Traditionally, this relevant information makes its way across the networks of general contractors and vendors, but by the time it is common knowledge, it’s already too late.

That’s where the power of local government meeting minutes and agendas come in.

Before any wild construction plans are allowed to begin, they must first be discussed and approved by local municipalities. These discussions take place during public meetings for city, village, township, county, or school boards.

For example, people who live in the suburbs want things to look a certain way, especially when it comes to their neighborhoods.

Let’s say Mickey D’s wanted to pop a squat next to our house in the middle of our street. That’d just be madness, right? Every board member at the meeting would shoot down that request before you could say “I’m lovin’ it.”

Because everyone has to go to the city to do just about anything, Curate is at the bottleneck of upcoming construction projects, and our technology catches these projects by flagging keywords such as zoning or conditional use permit.

In fact, back in April 2017, Taralinda and Dale noticed several hits for keywords indicating water engineering projects — such as the word wastewater — in minutes for small communities of Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant. They knew these communities must be gearing up for increased wastewater needs for their business parks.

They also knew Foxconn, $10 billion manufacturing facility, was coming to the U.S.

While everyone around the country wanted to know where this 1,000-acre campus would call home, however, no one had a clue of how to guess.

But Taralinda and Dale did.

By noticing these keywords hinting at major engineering restructuring — and even keywords hinting at increased real-estate development to accommodate the influx of a new workforce — in the communities’ meeting minutes, they were able to put the pieces together.

With the possibility of building a facility that uses millions of gallons of water per day, it’s no surprise they were able to make the connection months in advance.

While Foxconn seems to be a poster child for the power of Curate, it’s not just the corporate giants our software catches in the act of plotting out their next project.

We’re also catching medium and small-scale projects that (1) don’t get any build up by the press and that (2) not a lot of people, especially industry competitors,  know about.

By looking at the minutes and agendas, we’re able to pull all this “half-baked” information together and present valuable insight — such as the name of architects involved or location of a proposed certified survey map request by a new developer — for general contractors seeking these opportunities.

And because we pull information every week, we’re also able to track the progress of projects over time and gather competitor intel, both of which are well recorded and updated in municipality documents.

Needless to say, minutes and agendas are goldmines of uncommon knowledge that our software is able to extract for general contractors and vendors. With this information, they’ll know exactly who to strike up their next project-seeking conversation with and, hopefully, win that next contract.  

Getting by with a little help from our AI

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Ever find yourself spacing out when someone mentions the words Artificial Intelligence? Or shuttering at the acronym alone?

Well, before you click the back arrow in petition against some pretty cool tech that’s moving our world forward, here’s some food for thought: I bet you found this website using it.

And while robots-gone-rogue has been the plotline of Hollywood blockbusters for decades, AI in real life is actually a well-intentioned system of computer operations we customize to assist or complete the often mundane or time-intensive tasks on our to-do list.

In fact, Travis Connors, a partner with Borealis Ventures, said, “I like to call Artificial Intelligence Augmented Intelligence instead as it’s really assisting humans in making decisions.”

That’s where AI fits into what we’re doing here at Curate.

Similar to Google, our software scrapes the web to find all the public municipality meeting minutes and agendas for a certain area, as our construction clients can request documents across the whole state or within a 90-mile radius of their headquarters.

Then, our AI — specifically, a type called natural language processing — picks through the documents (up to 7,000 just in Wisconsin alone each week!) to find snippets of sentences with keywords indicating the early stage of construction or engineering projects that our clients would find useful.

Often times, the natural language processing is smart enough to hit the nail on the head.

Other times, it totally misses the mark, such as the word “development” as in “commercial development” versus “professional development” or the word “well” as in “well water” versus “well off.”

Oooh the English language is a tricky thing, but luckily we humans catch those mistakes before the results get sent out to our clients. We’re consistently training our AI each and every day to produce the best possible early project information and competitor intel.

And as the software runs and learns from its “mistakes,” its AI develops what experts call a neural network.

Over time, an AI system expands its neural network, which enables it to “think” more on its own and make more efficient decisions, such as knowing the difference between those words in the English language that are spelled the same but have different meanings in different contexts.

This is actually the case for all AI systems around the world, especially for young AI systems with a lot to learn, and humans have the ability to keep AI on the right path.

Our coding guru and co-founder, Dale, has the ability to tweak our software’s AI so it does or doesn’t pick up certain keywords, and our data coordinator, David, has the ability to train our software’s AI so it knows which keywords we deem appropriate in what context.

Without AI, we’d be manually reading through all the public municipality meeting minutes and agendas to find those keywords cluing in on project information.

Can you imagine that? It’d be a round-the-clock task which would prevent us from spending as much time on more personal work such as speaking with potential clients or recruiting interns.

And since spending on construction isn’t slowing down anytime soon — a projected 27 percent increase across the U.S. over the next several years, according to Statista.com — we’re thankful our software is smart enough to curate public municipality docs for us.

Putting it together: The power of a diverse network library to boost market intelligence

So, you've learned the importance of a strong network of individuals with unique talents and actually staying in touch with them, whether that be by attending industry events or chatting over the phone, but how does this relate to market intelligence?

Simple! The way every company hones their market intelligence is different. In other words, every company gauges the importance of information differently on a scale of how well it will help their business succeed. For example, what good will reading a physics textbook do for a music major's success during their senior performance?

That's where a strong network comes in: Fill your network library with textbooks only your company would find value in reading, and don't be afraid to read the same book twice! Keep tabs on the people within your industry network who can leverage both your growth as a leader and success of your company overall. So, brush off that dusty textbook and take it out for coffee. You might remember why you made a place for it on your bookshelf in the first place — and your market intelligence will thank you for it. 

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