A Business Developer’s Guide to Capital Improvement Plans

By FirmoGraphs Staff
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For infrastructure design, construction and service companies, finding leads can feel like searching for buried treasure.

Fortunately, thousands of publicly available documents contain 100,000s of potential jewels in the form of biddable projects.

The documents are capital plans, and FirmoGraphs can provide you with the maps you need to help you find the riches they contain. 

Capital Plans and How to Find Them

Capital plans are issued by most government entity that uses public money to construct and maintain such things as buildings, sewer and water lines, and bridges and highways. Their issuers include municipal and county governments, regional organizations such as transit agencies and port authorities, and state departments and governments, which make the plans public to show their capital project planning processes.

The plans’ names vary. County and municipal governments, for example, typically call them capital improvement plans or Capital Improvement Programs (CIPS), while state departments of transportation call them State Transportation Improvement Programs (STIPS).

Regardless of their type, these documents offer plenty of opportunities if you know how to get and use them. And that’s where FirmoGraphs can help. We collect CIPs and STIPs and spend 1000s of hours analyzing them, so you don’t have to. 

Finding CIPs and STIPs requires locating the websites of the local and state governments, government departments, agencies, and regional agencies that issue them and download them. These documents are typically available as PDF files, although they may also be in a spreadsheet format.

That may not seem like much work until you consider the sheer number of CIPs and STIPs available. At FirmoGraphs, we have thousands of them from hundreds of agencies across all 50 states. And we collect them at the rate of several dozen per week to make sure we always have the latest ones. 


Understanding Capital Plans

Of course, getting relevant CIPs and STIPs isn’t enough; you need to analyze them. And to do that, you have to understand what they are.

CIPs are considered working blueprints for building and maintaining the publicly funded infrastructure. They identify the capital improvement projects their issuers are planning to undertake, their probable funding sources, and how long they likely will take to complete.

To be considered a capital project and therefore included in a CIP, a project has to cost more than a threshold set by the CIP’s issuer. That’s to reflect that something like replacing a broken backboard and basket in a school gymnasium isn’t considered a capital project. Adding a 2nd story to the school would be.

The time spans that CIPs cover varies, but they’re typically from 3 to 7 years. CIPs usually contain their issuers’ intended capital spending for the 1st year and their expected capital spending for the rest of the period they cover.

The size of CIPs also varies, with small ones only containing 50 pages and large ones containing as many as 5,000 pages.

STIPS are put out by state departments of transportation under a mandate from the federal government and contain all the projects the DOTs are planning for the next 4 years that will receive federal funding.

How frequently a DOT issues STIPs depends on its size. Pennsylvania puts out 1 every two years, Florida puts out 1 per year, and New York puts out STIP updates monthly. Like CIPs, STIP’s sizes vary. A spreadsheet of the most recent Florida STIP had 44,213 rows. 

In all, we at FirmoGraphs have collected hundreds of thousands of pages of CIPs and STIPs since we started working with the documents.

Analyzing Capital Plans

The size of the biggest CIPs and STIPs can make them time-consuming to analyze, which is one reason you should consider letting FirmoGraphs analyze them for you. If, however, you’re determined to press on by yourself, you should start, unsurprisingly, at the beginning, as most CIPs and STIPs contain broad-level overviews of their issuers’ planning strategies.

For example, the 7th page of the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department’s “Adopted FY2022-2028 Capital Budget and Multi-Year Plan” is a bullet point summary with the headline, “Capital Budget Highlights and Operational Impacts.” It is preceded by 6 pages of expenditure and revenue summaries for combined water and wastewater projects, wastewater projects, and water projects.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s executive summary of its 2023-2026 STIP of its 2023-2026 STIP, meanwhile, starts with a 2-page overview that precedes a 2-page section on how the STIP was developed and summaries of Pennsylvania’s transportation and transit improvement programs.

The overviews at the start of CIPs and STIPs can be useful in multiple ways, revealing, among other things, how their issuers organize their lines of business and the type of projects they’re planning. The organization can be important because different lines of business may be run in different ways. 

The overviews also may reveal how projects are funded and, for projects planned in the future, how the issuer anticipates funding them. Typically, the projects in the immediate capital budget section of CIPs and STIPs are funded, but the projects in the sections dealing with later years may not be.

CIP and STIP issuers generally say where they expect to get funding for each project, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get the funding, or, if they do, that its terms won’t have changed by the time it’s secured. For example, federal funding programs may be cut or altered, interest rates may rise or fall, and the creditworthiness of the entity planning the projects may be upgraded or downgraded. These things and more can play a large part in determining the fate of the projects listed in the later years of CIPs and STIPs.

Since a lot can happen in a year, looking at the changes in funding levels in an organization’s CIPs or STIPs can be very informative. They show whether the organization is increasing, maintaining, or reducing its capital spending and, hence, the number of projects it plans to do. 

That’s why FirmoGraphs puts out alerts when we spot a big change in an organization’s plans from year to year, such the item about a nearly 16% increase in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s CIP that we included in our “Water & Wastewater Market Recap, December 2022.” That big a increase could affect the fate of some CIP projects.

How FirmoGraphs Can Help 

As you can see, getting CIPs and STIPs and untangling the big pictures they paint is time-consuming work. Unfortunately, it’s the easy part of dealing with the documents. The tough part is converting the information they contain to data and sorting it in ways that help you find projects that your company pursues.  Our data is uniform and easily accessed in easy-to-use dashboards.  

If your company has an information technology department, you can have them do it, but that takes them away from other tasks. And if your company doesn’t have an IT department, you may wind up spending too much time reading PDFs, searching for potential leads like someone looking for buried treasure without a map.

FirmoGraphs provides the map. We understand infrastructure marketing, and we know how to work with capital plans to help you extract insights and value, from industry trends to specific leads. We’d be glad to meet with you and help your company sort through the wealth of information in CIPs, STIPs, and other publicly available capital plans with a lot less digging. Feel free to request a meeting and review the data live in the BI. 

Tags: capital improvement plan, cip, capital improvement budget, what is a cip, capital improvement project, capital improvements plan guide