By Joshua Burd
For all of the economic pain, uncertainty and disruption that the pandemic has caused, the industrial real estate market has once again proved its strength and resiliency.
Michael McGuinness has seen it firsthand in New Jersey.
“Hands down, industrial is still on fire,” said McGuinness, the CEO of NAIOP New Jersey. “I think our industrial community has been very fortunate in all of this.
“Before COVID, they were doing really well. I think, post-COVID, they’re doing really well and will continue to do really well.”
It’s why it comes as no surprise that more than 1,000 industry professionals had registered for this week’s I.CON event, NAIOP’s flagship conference for the industrial sector, despite its move this year to a virtual format. And with an industry that appears to be as bullish as ever, McGuinness and other organizers believe they can still deliver the kind of experience and value that attendees have to come to expect from the annual gathering.
“You’re looking at investors, brokers, developers trying to learn from one another and help one another see where the opportunities are,” McGuinness said. “I don’t doubt that this is going to be a really good experience for most people — and it’s certainly going to be saving them the inconvenience of traveling and traffic.”
The three-day program kicked off on Tuesday, with NAIOP reporting that more than 1,100 people had signed up. McGuinness noted that I.CON Virtual is taking the place of both the West Coast conference that was slated for early April and the East Coast edition that was due to take place this month in Jersey City, meaning it has drawn attendees from across the country, rather than the regional crowd that typically descends on the host venue.
When it comes to presentations and panel discussions, McGuinness said the pandemic is undoubtedly a major topic, especially given the heightened focus on supply chains and consumers’ increased reliance on e-commerce. But the speakers will also be covering familiar topics, including macroeconomic trends, geopolitical concerns, technology and consumer behavior.
“It’s certainly going to color everything,” McGuinness said, referring to COVID-19.
NAIOP is also hoping that I.CON Virtual provides all of the other networking, educational and business development benefits that the conference normally offers. In addition to three to four presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions each day, the program features late afternoon roundtable meetings that will allow attendees to interact directly.
What’s more, the program features virtual tours of major development projects, simulating yet another popular component of a typical I.CON event. NAIOP is offering four such tours this week, including the massive Kearny Point complex in Kearny and the Steel Run Logistics Center in Perth Amboy, along with project sites in Chicago and Texas.
McGuinness said the presentations will feature footage from inside and outside the buildings that were shot with high-end cameras and drone flyovers, along with a live Q&A with representatives of the development teams.
“It should be pretty novel,” he said, later adding: “People that are not from the immediate area, especially, like to see what’s in the area and to get some ideas for when they go back.”
Tuesday’s schedule featured an opening keynote by Spencer Levy, chairman of Americas research and senior economic adviser for CBRE, along with panel discussions featuring some of the industry’s top developers and service professionals. Despite the challenges of the past three months, Levy was decidedly confident that the industrial sector would be even stronger in the pandemic’s aftermath.
“Not to say the next year won’t be difficult for industrial,” he said, according to a recap on NAIOP’s Market Share blog. “It will be — from a rent growth perspective and vacancy perspective — but will bounce back quickly.
“Despite the challenges of the economy, we are optimistic,” Levy said. “We are more bullish on industrial than we were before COVID, because all of the megatrends are pointing in its direction.”