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How Engineering, Architecture, and Construction Firms Identify Emerging Business Opportunities

by Olivia Barrow, Writer, Curate, Part of FiscalNote

Local government meetings and documents can be a goldmine for uncovering actionable leads for new projects. Learn how you can leverage technology to get ahead of opportunities.

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For engineering, architecture, and construction companies, finding actionable business leads can be a huge challenge, especially in the private sector. Unlike the public sector, where projects are openly shared during the conceptual stage and project owners are required by law to go through a public bidding process, projects in the private sector tend to stay under the radar until much later in the process — typically after they’ve already secured the services of an architecture or engineering firm.

However, local governments still play a significant role in approving and facilitating private projects. If you know where to look, you can find dozens of actionable leads for new projects that will likely need the services of your firm in the future.

How Technology Can Help You Incorporate Local Policy Monitoring into Your Strategy

We spoke with business development professionals in leading engineering, architecture, and construction firms who rely on Curate to surface business insights from local government documents to find out which types of meetings and documents are the most useful for finding projects at the earliest stages.

Here are some of the signals proactive business development leaders look for within local government meeting minutes and agendas to find actionable leads.

Comprehensive Plans

Comprehensive plans lay out a community’s goals and plans for the next 10 to 20 years. They may include plans for extensive zoning changes and will often lay out proposals for expansions of road and sewer infrastructure to accommodate growth. The intent of these changes is often to improve the community’s economic competitiveness by paving the way for new development — precisely why these documents can be a valuable lead for architects and engineers.

Curate clients in the engineering space pay close attention to comprehensive plans to find potential opportunities for the kinds of projects they specialize in.

For example, a community might note in its comprehensive plan that a key part of its strategy to expand the supply of affordable housing near its downtown is to change the zoning of specific neighborhoods to allow for higher density. This change will open up new parcels for multifamily development in those specific neighborhoods, so architects and engineers specializing in multifamily projects can proactively create new business opportunities by bringing these insights to the attention of developers within their network. If the developer is from out of town, they may not be aware of the change, and thus the architect can provide value and win the developer’s trust — which goes a long way toward winning their business.

Conceptual Reviews

A conceptual review meeting is usually an optional step in the public approval process, but developers will use it when they are pursuing projects that may be risky or controversial, such as a new multi-use retail and residential project in an already densely populated area. Even if a project aligns with the community’s overall goals for adding housing and retail spaces, the immediate neighbors to the project could sink it if they don’t support it.

A conceptual review is an opportunity for the developer to share their plans with the public, gather feedback about the size, scope, and design, and make changes or scrap the project completely based on the results.

David Siegel, executive director of the Minnesota Builders Exchange, notes that conceptual reviews can be especially useful for general contractors and subcontractors, because developers have usually hired an architect or engineer to create the preliminary design that they’ll bring to the community but, in most cases, they haven’t yet hired a contractor.

Zoning Changes or Variances

Zoning issues are a strong signal that future development is coming to a specific area. There are two types of zoning changes to look out for: a zoning change and a zoning variance.

A zoning change is typically initiated by community leaders as part of an overall growth strategy. This can be a good signal to start reaching out to developers to see if they’re interested in developing that area, but it doesn’t usually signal the early stage of a specific project.

However, if a business or a developer wants to build a new facility in an area where the zoning doesn’t support that kind of building, they have to petition the council for a variance or a conditional use permit. If they’re unable to get the appropriate variance or exception, the project won’t be able to proceed, so project leaders usually complete this step at the earliest stage of a project, in some cases before they’ve committed to an architect or engineer.

“Getting access to private projects is particularly difficult because they’re not really in the public eye,” Siegel says. “But they still usually have to get some kind of permit or approval from the city. Maybe they need a variance from township ordinance in order to do this. Or maybe there will be heavier trucks coming in than originally anticipated, and they’ll need to have the roadway re-done.”

How to Effectively Track Funds from Major Programs at the Local Level

Learn how to efficiently monitor which local governments are using funds from specific federal programs and get insights into how they’re using the money.

Federal Grant Programs

Major federal spending programs like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have made almost $1 trillion of new funds available for projects such as telecom infrastructure expansion, bridge and highway reconstruction, and environmental remediation. Public projects like these typically go through a very public bidding process and will show up in RFP databases, so you don’t have to do as much digging to find out about them in the early stages.

But relationships are still important for winning public projects. Tracking which communities are applying for the funding can show you where to concentrate your relationship-building efforts before the RFP is released. There are often opportunities for construction industry professionals to provide value to city staffers who are completing the grant applications, which can both help ensure that your community receives the funding and deepen your relationship with local officials.

“Construction is still a relationship business,” says Siegel. “The more and tighter you can build relationships with your subcontractors, trade partners and suppliers, architects and engineers, and city managers — the better it is.”

Track Local Government Discussions to Find New Business Opportunities

Proactive business development teams at architecture, engineering, and construction firms around the country rely on Curate to get wind of potential construction projects at the earliest possible stage. Curate, part of FiscalNote, offers the most comprehensive database of local government contacts and documents in the country and our AI-powered technology makes it simple and efficient to find mentions of comprehensive plans, conceptual reviews, zoning changes, and other indicators of future projects in major metro areas as well as communities as small as 2,000 residents.

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