June 06, 2019

Curate turns three!

Last month we celebrated our third birthday, and a lot has changed over the past three years! Since 2016, we've...

1. Developed Curate from its beta product stage to our fully-functioning web dashboard

2. Expanded from 5 beta customers to 103 CurateBUILD and CurateLOCAL customers

3. Become a slightly larger team from 2 employees (our co-founders!) to 13 employees

4. Scaled our geographic reach from 1 state to 20 states

5. Grown our indexed and searchable archive of meeting minutes and agendas from thousands in Wisconsin alone to millions in states across the country

Thanks for following us on our journey these first three years in pursuit of helping you become the local expert in your market — we're just getting started! 

May 02, 2019

Expert Take: Promoting engagement in local advocacy among your builders association

Q&A with Chad Lawler, Executive Director at
the Madison Area Builders Association


Tell us about your role at Madison Area Builders Association.

I was the Director of Government Affairs for two years and then in October/November became the Executive Director. As part of moving into the Executive Director's role, I've maintained the chief lobbyist advocacy hat also, but at this time the official title is executive director.

What issues get decided at the local-government level that impact members of your organization and who would you say you're advocating primarily for?
Some issues that always come up are impact fees. Or, any fee associated with stormwater retention or land set asides, park fees, infrastructure, width of roads, the width of the terrace between the sidewalk and the road. Pretty much anything that deals with any aspect of building at all that has potential to add time delays or cost impacts, that's the stuff that we work on. We work with a lot of municipalities to try to lower the cost of housing and development.

So I would say we indirectly advocate on behalf of homeowners. That's huge. It's less the fact that if we're advocating on behalf of builders and developers, because there's a misperception that they're all greedy, rich, old white guys who just want more money and that's why they're doing it. But, a lot of times it's that they're looking to keep the cost down so that people can afford to purchase the homes. Otherwise, if no one's able to afford a house, they're not able to build it for them.

On a small team, how do you prioritize advocacy and how do you engage your membership in that process?
We have an active government affairs committee with some strong champions. Our government affairs committee in the last two years has gone from 20 people to 50. Curate has actually worked out even better than I could've hoped because of what it allows me to do instead of having to look through 52 municipalities different agendas for the board meetings and planning committees. That was two hours [of looking through minutes and agendas] — if I did it. Did I have time to do it or did I want to do it? Sometimes you'll look through and you spend four or five hours doing it and you don't find a single thing. Well, if I'm not gonna find a single thing, I'd rather find nothing in five minutes than in five hours.

Now I can literally just wait until Tuesday comes, look at the report, keep an eye out for keywords and then it allows me to make sure I don't miss things. So, I spend 15 to 30 minutes every Tuesday reading it and then I send it onto our committee so they can look at it. There's been a couple of committee members who have been like, “Hey, this is something that we should look into.” So we've looked into a few things here or there just to make sure.

For instance, Dane County is rewriting their chapter 10, which is their zoning ordinance. We had been waiting to get information on when the townships are going to approve it. Well, there was a big batch of them that all approved it on the same Curate report, so that was nice. And then the capillary or regional planning commission also updated their bylaws, which at the end it was pretty innocuous. But, it was one of those ones where I'm like, “Oh, okay, well I better read this thing in case there's some crazy changes in there.” It's been good because it's things that, in the past, have taken me hours to do — now it takes me like 15-20 minutes. In that sense, it's like a C-SPAN on print, aggregated.

Most builders associations don’t have a government affairs person, so when an issue comes up, what are some strategies that have been effective in advocating on behalf of your members?
What we tend to do, if an issue comes up, we have our government affairs group, so we convene a special task force of that group if people are interested in the area. I've worked over the last three years to create relationships with everybody in the county and locally so that if an issue does arise, that's generally speaking, we can resolve it really quickly. I actually did a presentation for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) on this exact thing: ROI on a small staff of small resources. What I told them is the most effective thing is to have the relationships built ahead of time, so when an issue does arise, it's just a telephone call.

That's pretty much where we're at now — if something does pop up and we don't have a relationship with them, usually we just try to find out from our group where the key points are, what the issues are within the legislation or the ordinance code change. And then we just come up with factoids on how it impacts housing and affordability.

So, when you go in and you're saying, “Hey, you know, every thousand dollars that you increase the fee doesn't sound like much because it’s going to amortize it over the course of a 30-year mortgage on.” But the thing is, every thousand dollars that you increase the cost of a home, there are other committees and other departments that are adding a thousand bucks onto it and those prices add up. And if you're truly looking for affordable housing, you shouldn't be increasing the pricing on it from a local municipality standpoint.

How has the landscape of municipal-government advocacy changed since you started your career?
But I'd say, over the last three years, it hasn't been as adversarial. And part of that is just from our efforts to create relationships, but there's still issues out there. I would say that it's just that affordable housing has become a larger issue, even though it was a big issue three years ago. It's kind of now the focal point for every single individual. And then you have turnover and it's just back to educating and relationship building. But I would say it’s much easier for me and our association to do the work now than it was three years ago, but I think that's mostly due to the work we've had versus a shift.

Why is it important for builders associations to be involved in their local municipal governments? What advice would you give to them about engaging in advocacy?
It’s one of the biggest member benefits that you can provide, especially to your builder members that are impacted by codes and ordinances directly, who have to pay the fees that are associated with it. They see the delays that are caused by red tape. So, it's a way that you're able to show immediate value to somebody who is questioning, “Well, why am I a member? What do I get from this?” You can say, “Well, because of what we just did with this advocacy, we saved the industry $4.5 million over the next five years. That breaks down to about a $2,000 savings that you just had. So, in essence, it's paid for your membership three times over.”

Curate was the one tool that I brought up during my presentation to the associations with limited resources [at ASAE], and I didn't bring it up because I get paid to, it's because it's worked well for me. I'm willing to go out and promote it as something that I see as a useful tool for a very minimal amount. To me, it's a phenomenal cost, the amount that we have to pay for it, because of how much time it saves me.

If you're playing in the local space, you don't have time to do a lot of the extra work that other larger associations might have — somebody who's dedicated or associations that have somebody who came from a political background. Curate puts you on an even footing. It simplifies it for you so you don't even have to worry about, “Okay, where do I go and what am I supposed to be looking through?”

Chad-LawlerChad Lawler is the Executive Director for the Madison Area Builders Association with a background in legal and government affairs.

Prior to joining MABA, Lawler worked as a contract lobbyist and practicing attorney. He is also an experienced business leader and counselor who understands the needs of businesses and associations in Wisconsin having worked for several years as a manager for a Global Fortune 500 Company.

Interested in tracking community discussions important to your association? Click here to learn more about Curate.

April 04, 2019

Where construction was hot in Q1

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Download our latest heat maps to see where construction was hot from January to March 2019 for private, commercial, housing, industrial and manufacturing, and education construction projects in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Chicagoland.


March 06, 2019

An update on Curate's national footprint

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Curate is now live in 15 states!

We’re scanning hundreds of thousands of municipality meeting agendas and minutes every week across: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Although we’re expanding nationally, our focus is local.

By putting a megaphone to municipalities in a way no one has ever done before — only the most relevant snippets of discussion from minutes and agendas displayed on one dashboard feed refreshed weekly — we’re able to track market intel, identify trends, and follow hot button issues anywhere in the country it matters to you.

Most recently we searched the minutes and agendas from our Texas dashboard for discussions surrounding the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, and compiled a heat map showing where discussions were most frequent regarding the topic.

Minutes and agendas, however, are also goldmines of market intel before it hits the newspaper.

If journalists are attending these local meetings to report only on the most relevant discussions, we’re doing the exact same thing but optimized without the middle man.

By going to the same municipality websites each week, we’re able to track discussions of construction and engineering projects, updating them overtime on our dashboard.

This is a routine most newspapers don’t have the luxury of consistently doing each week — maybe when it come to reporting the construction of a new hospital in town, but certainly not for something characteristically “un-newsworthy” by journalism standards as, let’s say, a new gas station.

Take, for example, this hit from a February 13th meeting for the Arlington Heights, Illinois Plan Commission:

“MR. COHEN: Yes. I am Andrew Cohen with Vequity. We are the developers on the project. CHAIRMAN ENNES: Okay, would you tell us about your project? MR. COHEN: So, the proposed project is at 1650 West Algonquin Road in Arlington Heights. That is the northeast corner of New Wilke and Algonquin Road. It was previously a Citgo which has now been demolished, the tanks had been pulled, and we plan on building a new construction 7-Eleven. This will be a 7-Eleven with fuel. It will be their new nationwide, new and improved prototype which they're rolling out all over the Chicagoland area.

If you Google News search “‘1650 West Algonquin Road’ Arlington Heights, Illinois” nothing shows up — so perhaps you can say with some degree of confidence that no journalist reported on the “new and improved prototype” of 7-Eleven gas stations that are claimed to launch nationwide after a successful roll-out in Chicagoland.

Regardless of your specialty in construction, it’d be hard to pass up a potential opportunity to build the next best generation of Slurpee establishments.

But only if you knew about it.

This is also just one of the many reasons we built Curate to run on keyword search. By searching for hundreds of industry-focused keywords, like “rezoning” or “certified survey map” for general contractors, we’re able to catch, without human error, every instance of that keyword in discussion, which means we’re also able to search for custom keywords, such as specific names of businesses, developers, architects, or engineers.

Here’s a recent construction hit from a Cedar Rapids, Iowa City Council meeting, with highlighted keywords that made, according to our system, this snippet relevant:

“The Applicant, M & W Properties, LLC and Titleholders, Jay M. Kluesner, Curtis Krambeer, Gary F. Wade, Richard A. and Pamela R. Kolosick and DLB Properties, LLC are requesting an amendment to the City’s Future Land Use Map to allow for development of an assisted living facility. The request would change the Future Land Use Map designation for these parcels from Urban Low-Intensity (U-LI) to Urban Medium Intensity (U-MI). The purpose of the map amendment is to permit the applicant to construct the proposed assisted living facility on 4.20 acres with a density of 24-units per acre.”

Consistency and accuracy is key, and the technology available today — such as natural language processing exemplified above — enables us to pinpoint the intel you want to read, not just the intel a journalist reported on.

So whether you’re a general contractor in Minnesota looking to receive insights on pre-construction activity, or an association in New Hampshire looking to keep tabs on key issues discussed by communities across your state, Curate helps you stay the local expert from anywhere.

Interested in setting up your own Curate dashboard? Fill out our Get Started form.

Current users can contact our data team at reports@curatesolutions.com to add new geography to their dashboard.

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