David Farmer and Paul Van Buskirk don’t own a crystal ball or a time machine. But they’ve got something that might be just as magic: an algorithm for forecasting development.
Their Bonita Springs-based business, Metro Forecasting Models, works with city and county governments and businesses to forecast growth and determine whether they have the infrastructure necessary to support residential and commercial development. The modeling projects when a city’s growth will take off, by how much and then considers how many housing units will be needed to support the higher population. Likewise, businesses can use Metro Forecasting’s data to plan where and how to expand.
Farmer says that while rooftops are generally used as the conventional way of determining where to put commercial developments, his company’s work specifically looks at humans, not houses that may be vacant.
“We do people better than anyone,” says Farmer. “In the last recession, what some developers and even maybe some governments forgot was that rooftops are not the important thing.”
Van Buskirk, an engineer and city planner, has been working on the Interactive Growth Model, the firm’s core forecasting engine, since the 1960s. He and Farmer registered the model with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2010 and launched the company in 2015. Van Buskirk serves as board chairman and Farmer, a professional engineer and certified city planner, serves as CEO.
Unlike other forecasting solutions, the Interactive Growth Model can build four or five models at a time, Farmer says. It focuses on the predicted number of people coming into an area instead of the projected number of houses to be built. Farmer says this adds to the granularity of the model, or the amount of detail present.
“We want to be … the barometer the industry can turn to for reliable, factual information about the real demand, the real need for housing, versus the actual supply,” Farmer says.
Forecasts have come to 98 percent accuracy, or greater, with the models for cities ranging from Cape Coral to Frisco, Texas, and Asheville, North Carolina, Farmer says. Van Buskirk ran the model in 2002— before launching Metro Forecasting—and predicted that Cape Coral’s population would hit 155,179 permanent residents in 2010. The actual number was 154,305 that year.
Each project is tailored to the clients’ needs, so the results are specific. Metro Forecasting Models collects copious amounts of data, including property records and prices, zoning documents, water and sewage use, and aerial photography to confirm documentation of land use and the Enhanced 911 database of address points to determine the number of units in apartments and condos. The data is put through the model, which is built on some 400,000 lines of painstakingly precise code.
The company’s five employees specialize in data analysis, global information systems, modeling and calibration, quality model for Collier County that provides guidance about where to put the next parks, libraries, schools, jails, public utilities and other infrastructure, says Mike Bosi, Collier County’s director of planning.
“So not only does [Metro Forecasting’s model] tell you how many people you’re going to have, but it shows you the general area where you need to expect those populations to be, and therefore, you can coordinate your infrastructure requirements accordingly. That has been probably the greatest benefit,” he says.
Otherwise, governments would have to look at building permits that have been used in the past and find trend lines.
“We were always looking backward to look forward, instead of looking forward to look forward,” he says.