Making moves

E-commerce growth is sparking some changes in Houston's industrial real estate market

Houston's industrial development has grown, and a contributing factor is the rise of e-commerce activity. Getty Images

With retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. projected to soar from $501 billion in 2018 to $740 billion in 2023, it's no wonder that Houston's industrial market is expanding faster than Santa's bag of toys.

E-commerce is one of the main drivers of an upturn in industrial construction in the Houston area. Estimates from four commercial real estate services companies show that during the third quarter, anywhere from 13.3 million square feet to 18.5 million square feet of industrial space was under construction in the region. That volume is up considerably from the second quarter of 2019 and from the same period in 2018.

Around the country, the "need for speed and choice" to appease shoppers is driving a lot of the increased demand for industrial space, Hamid Moghadam, chairman and CEO of industrial REIT Prologis, recently told Wall Street analysts. That, he said, is because "the more choices you want and the quicker you want them, the more inventory you need to position near the customers."

Rob Stillwell, executive managing director in the Houston office of commercial real estate services company Newmark Knight Frank, says many of the local industrial facilities geared toward e-commerce are being built in and around pockets of residential growth. This includes a swath from I-10 West in Katy to I-45 North toward The Woodlands. Among the facilities popping up in that corridor are massive projects for Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, according to Stilwell.

"E-commerce is likely a contributing factor to many distribution operations in Houston, but not the sole reason for the strong demand seen in the market," Stilwell says. Many new or expanding industrial tenants in the market do have an e-commerce component, he adds, yet won't be leasing space just for e-commerce purposes.

In Houston, e-commerce-fueled construction of industrial space is especially prevalent near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield. However, Houston's northwest submarket is seeing the most industrial construction in the area, with 5.5 million square feet underway in the third quarter.

Commercial real estate services company JLL pegs the southeast submarket as the hottest, with its third-quarter report showing 3.5 million square feet of new industrial projects underway there.

Aside from e-commerce, the Port of Houston and the petrochemical sector are propelling industrial construction in the area, Cushman & Wakefield says.

Around the Houston area, nine of the 89 industrial spaces under construction in the third quarter exceeded 500,000 square feet, Cushman & Wakefield says. Several of those lack a specific e-commerce element. This includes a 1 million-million-square-foot manufacturing facility for Coca-Cola, a more than 770,000-square-foot distribution center for Home Depot, and a nearly 550,000-square-foot distribution center for Costco.

Cushman & Wakefield warns that Houston's industrial market could suffer from an oversupply of space, as well as from a drop in shipping activity prompted by ongoing trade disputes and a decline in oil prices. Although industrial vacancy is expected to rise slightly through 2021, the company says, "demand continues for more modern, state-of-the-art facilities and market fundamentals remain healthy."

During the third quarter, only one-fourth of the space under construction in the Houston area was preleased, according to commercial real estate services company Colliers International. However, another 10 percent to 25 percent of that inventory should be preleased before the facilities are completed, the company says.

The area's industrial vacancy rate rose to 7.7 percent in the third quarter as new projects came online, Cushman & Wakefield says. Once more supply arrives, the vacancy rate is expected to tick up.

"Low interest rates and robust investor demand are expected to continue generating strong interest for Houston industrial assets. On the fundamentals side, the market is closely watching new inventory additions," JLL says.

For the second decade in a row, Houston could have the second highest number of new residents for any metro area. Photo by DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Brace yourselves, Houston. Following a decade of eye-popping population growth, Houston is expected in this decade to once again lead the nation's metro areas for the number of new residents.

New data from commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield shows Houston gained 1,284,268 residents from 2010 through 2019. In terms of the number of new residents tallied during the past decade, Houston ranked second among U.S. metro areas, the data indicates.

From 2020 through 2029, Houston is projected to tack on another 1,242,781 residents, Cushman & Wakefield says. For the second decade in a row, that would be the second highest number of new residents for any metro area, the company says. That's around the number of people who live in the Louisville, Kentucky, metro area.

For Houston, the 2020-29 forecast would represent a population growth rate of 17.2 percent, down from 21.6 percent for 2010 through 2019, Cushman & Wakefield says.

As of July 2018, the Census Bureau estimated the Houston area was home to nearly 7 million people, making it the country's fifth largest metro. If the Cushman & Wakefield projection is correct, the metro population would easily exceed 8 million by the end of 2029.

The outlook is based on data from Moody's Analytics and the U.S. Census Bureau. The company published its findings January 7. The outlook takes into account a metro area's birth and death rates, along with the number of people moving into and out of an area.

The forecast indicates Houston won't be alone among Texas metro areas in terms of rolling out the welcome mat for lots of new residents.

Dallas-Fort Worth is expected to once again lead the nation's metro areas for the number of new residents. DFW gained 1,349,378 residents from 2010 through 2019, ranking first among U.S. metro areas for the number of new residents.

From 2020 through 2029, DFW is projected to tack on another 1,393,623 residents. That would be the highest number of new residents for any metro area for the second decade in a row.

The 2020-29 forecast would represent a population growth rate of 17.9 percent, down from 20.9 percent for 2010 through 2019, Cushman & Wakefield says.

As of July 2018, an estimated 7,539,711 people lived in DFW, making it the country's fourth largest metro. Under the Cushman & Wakefield scenario, DFW's population would swell to about 9 million by the time the calendar flips to 2030.

Austin, meanwhile, is projected to retain its No. 9 ranking for headcount growth among U.S. metro areas, according to Cushman & Wakefield. The company says the Austin area added 549,141 residents from 2010 through 2019. From 2020 through 2029, another 602,811 residents are on tap. At that pace, the Austin area is on track to have roughly 2.9 million residents at the outset of the next decade.

Cushman & Wakefield envisions a 26.5 percent population growth rate for the Austin area from 2020 through 2029, down from 31.8 percent in 2010-19.

The Cushman & Wakefield report doesn't include figures for the San Antonio metro area.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.