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As Atlanta moves into a new year, the question on everyone’s mind is what long-term impact will the pandemic have on commercial real estate?
The answer is less than many originally predicted, according to leaders at the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors (ACBR). Office space isn’t going away, even though workers will be spending more time at home. E-commerce, which was already a growing trend, got a jump start during the shutdown and is likely to keep warehousing and logistics leasing humming along at a record pace.
The office market is experiencing two seemingly contradictory trends. Companies are re-upping their leases for about the same amount of space they took pre-Covid, while continuing to allow their employees to work from home.
“Flexibility is the new amenity for employees,” said Heather Lamb, vice president of ACBR and senior vice president/co-market leader of Colliers Atlanta’s Landlord Services Group. “Corporate America is saying our employees want a flexible work environment, they want the ability to work from home, but then they also need a landing space at the office for the days they congregate together as a team to strategize or brainstorm.”
Keeping work-from-home polices in place also allows tenants to stagger shifts and maintain social distancing. For many, that means keeping the existing square footage while reducing user density.
“The physical office will remain critical to a company’s success,” said Audrey Frey, managing director and Atlanta occupier leader at CBRE and an ACBR director. “You can run a business virtually, but it’s very hard to grow it remotely. Culture, mentoring, collaboration, and innovation all need to be done face-to-face.”
While the pandemic certainly accelerated the slow-moving tend toward telework, it also demonstrated to companies that its applications are limited.
“There’s some evidence that we can work effectively from home, as long as the volume and velocity of businesses is 40%,” said Bryant Cornett, president, DTSpade. But as business activities increase and as companies need to innovate, the question becomes whether a company can thrive while keeping employees working remotely, he said.
When it comes to office rates, owners are holding firm although there are more concessions than before. The average rate for Class A office space dropped slightly during the year from a historic high of $32.21 per square foot per month in the first quarter to $30.78 in Q3, according to JLL Atlanta research. These figures compared to $30.39/sf per month at the beginning of 2019.The cost of space has risen steadily from an average $24.35/sf/month in 2015.
The question of just how much space is enough is an evolving trend.
“Everyone’s trying to figure out right now how they’re going to be using office space going forward,” said Kyle Kenyon, senior vice president for CBRE’s Atlanta Brokerage Group and a director of ACBR.
One big question is the availability and success of a Covid-19 vaccine. If it proves effective and workers get comfortable being back working together in the office, then the shift away from telework is likely to become more pronounced.
As workers return to the office there will be less crowding together. The days of the open office plan with low cubicle walls putting people close together may be at end – at least for the near future.
“It straightened out some of the trends where people are really being stacked into work environments that were too dense,” said Kirk Rich, principal with the Agency Leasing Group at Avison Young Atlanta and an ACBR director. “It is probably going to make the work environment a much more pleasurable experience and a more flexible experience, which is good for everybody.”
The amount of leasing activity has also held relatively steady.
“The number of companies that have been touring our building has been down about 20%” during 2020, according to Jeff Shaw, partner at Bridge Investment Group and CEO of Bridge Commercial Real Estate and a director of ACBR.
With 229 leases done so far this year, Shaw’s firm has leased about 1.62 million square feet of space with more in negotiations. This volume of business compared to 213 leases signed in 2019 for 1.9 million square feet.
“The demand [for square footage] is going be less but not nearly to the extent they think,” said Gregg Metcalf, vice president of ACBR and executive vice president at JLL Atlanta. “The focus within the space will change. It’s really going to be about the human experience, with more attention to creativity and collaboration.”
One segment of the market that has not only flourished, but accelerated, is industrial space. E-commerce was already well underway when the pandemic shutdown forced more people to start ordering home delivery via Amazon and other companies.
“We’ve been booming,” said Sim Doughtie, president of King Industrial Realty Inc.
Over the last four quarters, the Atlanta market did over 65 million square feet of space in deals, according to Doughtie. “And that’s a record, we’ve never done that much,” he said. A total of 24.7 million square feet was absorbed over the same period. This compared to 48.5 million square foot of leasing activity the previous year (Q4 2018 to Q3 2019). During that same time period, there was more than 7.6 million square feet of positive net absorption as well as over 17.4 million square feet in new construction.
“And then from a new construction standpoint, we did the second most new construction with a little over 24 and a half million square feet,” Doughtie said. The record for new construction was set in first quarter 2018 with more than 24.9 million square feet.
E-commerce has moved beyond just Amazon with more and more retailers and suppliers doing business online for sales and deliveries.
Over the past six years more than 122 million square feet of industrial space has been built, even as the vacancy rate has dropped from about 13.4% to 10.8%.
“We’ve been absorbing what we’ve been building, and that new construction was so prevalent because when e-commerce came on the scene, they needed 36 to 40 foot ceiling heights,” said Doughtie.
There is still considerable uncertainty around retail space. With many large retailers declaring bankruptcy, the prospect is for more empty space.
One surprising development is that companies will be opening up their office spaces and bringing employees back sooner than many had predicted. Workers are already back in many buildings on a staggered basis and the pace of their return is already accelerating.
A Colliers report found that large majorities of workers not only wanted to work from home at least one day a week a week (83%), but 76% self-reported the same or better productivity, while 74% said they felt connected to their teammates.
Later surveys conducted as the pandemic stretched on revealed that workers have grown tired of being at home full-time. This change in attitude reflected the stresses of working at home and the “need to be in a routine,” said Jodi Selvey, president-elect, Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors and senior vice president, principal at Colliers International Atlanta. These workers were increasingly saying “it is impossible for me to work with my kids at home, my wife at home, I need to be around my coworkers,” she added.
While hospitals and medical practices were hit hard by the cancelation of many non-emergency procedures, that isn’t likely to affect the medical office sector.
While capital budgets have been constrained in health care due to the pandemic, there is “no uncertainty in clinical healthcare space as to whether they need space or size,” said Cornett. “There’s been an uptick in telemedicine, but it’s still just on the margins.”
The amount of medical office space being built and absorbed is likely to continue rising in the coming years, he added.
Atlanta’s recovery from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will outpace the nation’s in 2021, driven by the metro area’s educated workforce, consistent business development and innovation, above-average population growth and strong housing market, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth’s Georgia Economic Outlook 2021, released earlier this month.
The Center, at University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, conducts economic, demographic and other research across the state of Georgia, including the 38th edition of its yearly outlook report.
Among the 2021 report’s findings are that they pace of job growth in metro Atlanta will be 1.7%, almost double the 0.9% gain expected for the nation. This is in part due to the area’s high-wage industries including within technology and healthcare, and mid-wage industries such as general medical and surgical hospitals, and building equipment contractors.
Atlanta has many high-tech jobs: 5.9% of total employment in the Atlanta MSA versus 4.4% for Georgia and 5% for the nation, the report states. The 29-county Atlanta metro will add 46,500 jobs in 2021.
“In 2021, the area’s high concentration of college-educated workers, business partners, cybersecurity, high-tech companies, innovation centers and research universities will continue to attract high technology companies in life sciences, software development, R&D, healthcare IT, and advanced manufacturing,” according to the report.
A Chicago real estate developer has started construction on a distribution center near Atlanta’s airport, its first project in the metro area and another example of confidence in the region’s booming logistics sector.
This week Dayton Street Partners broke ground on the 180,300-square-foot building rising on 13 acres it assembled south of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Rock Hill Drive. Rock Hill Distribution Center, as the project is called, is slated to be finished by the third quarter of 2021.
Dayton Street declined to say how much it paid for the land, and the transaction was not immediately available in the public deeds.
Atlanta commercial real estate services firm Lee & Associates was tapped to market the distribution center for lease.
Dayton Street and other developers expanding in Atlanta see demand driven by consumers who are turning more than ever to online shopping, especially during the pandemic. An industry rule-of-thumb is that for every $1 billion in e-commerce sales another 1.2 million square feet of new e-commerce space is needed. Consider longtime Atlanta developer Portman Holdings just launched an industrial division. Another area of growth among industrial properties is within the cold-storage industry, where the largest giants are gobbling up other companies in a bid to build global logistics networks.
Despite rising cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, the recession brought on by the pandemic was one of the shortest on record, and according to economists, it is practically a thing of the past. The recovery, meanwhile, is underway.
“Absent another lockdown, the COVID-19 recession is over,” said Benjamin C. Ayers, dean of the Terry College of Business.
On Dec. 3, the University of Georgia released its 38th annual Georgia Economic Outlook. The report showed the pandemic did less damage to Georgia’s economy than to the nation as a whole, and that a full, state-level recovery will arrive sooner than in the broader U.S.
“In Georgia, there’s less economic debris to clean up,” Ayers said during the virtual presentation live-streamed on YouTube. “In addition, many of the factors that caused Georgia to outperform prior to the pandemic are reasserting themselves.”
Factors that will likely fuel Georgia’s rebound include consumer spending, Federal Reserve fiscal policy, above-average population growth, a strong housing market and a packed pipeline of economic development projects.
In fact, nine of the 10 largest economic development projects announced in the first half of 2020 happened after the COVID-19 shutdown, Ayers said.
If a vaccine is widely distributed and accepted, Georgia’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth could reach 4% by the middle of next year, Ayers said. The national projection is 3.5%.
An automotive parts producer that specializes in transmissions says it will expand its Georgia operations with a $240 million investment that includes adding hundreds of new jobs.
Hyundai TRANSYS will build a 620,000-square-foot facility in West Point, near the company’s current location on the Kia campus, according to an announcement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. The facility will produce eight-speed transmissions for Hyundai Motor Company.
Hyundai TRANSYS says it’s the only automobile manufacturing company in the world that specializes in transmissions.
The new jobs include advanced manufacturing and management roles, as well as supplementary construction handling and inspection. This expansion will take Hyundai TRANSYS’ employment total in Georgia to 1,741 jobs, according to the release.
“The level of trust built through years of capital investment, employment, and training support – along with new opportunities unmatched by any other states – made Georgia a natural choice,” said President of Hyundai TRANSYS Georgia Powertrain Sangkil Jung in a prepared statement. “We are excited for the opportunities ahead as we expand our presence in the West Point community.”
Governor Brian P. Kemp and the Georgia Department of Labor today announced that Georgia’s unemployment rate in October dropped 1.8%, bringing the current unemployment rate to 4.5%, down more than 8% since the state’s all-time high in April 2020 and below the national average.
“Thanks to our measured approach to the pandemic, fighting for people and their paychecks, Georgia continues to lead the nation in economic recovery as the fight with COVID-19 continues,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “As the No. 1 State for Business eight years in a row, we’ve been able to avoid draconian budget cuts, secure our AAA bond rating, and ensure a safe return to work for countless Georgians in every corner of the Peach State.
“This is great news, but we will not rest on our laurels. To build on our momentum, we need all Georgians to remain vigilant and continue to follow best practices to stop the spread of the virus: wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance, follow the guidance of public health officials, and get your flu shot if you have not done so already. These simple measures will go a long way in keeping our state healthy and on the right track as we head into a busy holiday season. We are still facing down a once-in-a-century global pandemic, and we will do what it takes to protect lives and livelihoods and ensure Georgia’s safest, healthiest, and most prosperous days lie ahead.”
The news on Georgia’s unemployment rate follows the announcement last week that Georgia has once again been named the No. 1 State for Business by Site Selection Magazine for a record-breaking eighth consecutive year. The same week, the Georgia Department of Economic Development announced that, from the start of the new fiscal year to the end of October, Georgia announced the creation of more than 11,800 jobs and over $4.3 billion in new investment, outpacing the same period last year by 45% in jobs and 56% in investment.
The U.S. Census Bureau just released new statistics that highlight geographic mobility in the United States in 2019.
According to the new data, the top 10 states that Americans moved to were Florida, 601,611; Texas, 559,661; California, 480,204; North Carolina, 315,215; Georgia, 284,541; Pennsylvania, 267,465; Virginia, 264,855; New York, 254,806; Arizona, 253,295; and Colorado, 240,600.
The migration to Georgia is boosting the Peach State’s economy, as metro Atlanta’s booming housing market shows, as well as reshaping its politics, as the recent election showed.
Of the estimated 284,541 people who moved to the Peach State, here are the states where they moved from, according to the Census Bureau:
TEKLAS’s 200,000-square-foot facility and headquarters will be located at 320 South Industrial Blvd. in Calhoun and is expected to create 120 jobs. Operations are scheduled to start in the spring of 2021.
The company produces rubber hoses and plastic tubes for automotive fluid systems. It works for companies including General Motors, Volkswagen and Daimler Mercedes.
The new Calhoun plant continues a growing trend of EV manufacturers locating plants in Georgia.
“As the automotive industry continues to transform and move toward electric vehicles and e-mobility, we will work to foster an ecosystem of manufacturers and suppliers on the leading edge of the industry’s transition,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson in the release.
Canada’s Granite Real Estate Investment Trust is buying a big new Atlanta distribution center for $80 million.
Toronto-based Granite (NYSE: GRP.U) reported it has agreed to acquire 8500 Tatum Road, a 1 million-square-foot modern warehouse distribution facility situated on 83.5 acres in Palmetto, about 30 minutes south of downtown Atlanta.
The state-of-the-art facility was completed in 2019 and is leased to PVH Corp., serving as PVH Corp.’s primary e-commerce distribution facility. PVH has a remaining lease term of 15 years.
PVH, formerly known by the brand Phillips-Van Heusen, owns the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen, Izod, Arrow, Speedo, Warner’s, Olga and Geoffrey Beene brands, as well as the digital-centric True & Co. intimates brand, and markets a variety of goods under these and other nationally and internationally known owned and licensed brands.
Atlanta Business Chronicle previously reported that the distribution center is part of an industrial real estate project along Interstate 85 just south of Atlanta called Shugart Farms. Red Rock Developments partnered on the Shugart Farms project with a division of New York-based Wharton Equity Partners and an affiliate of Starwood Capital Group.