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.

Houston misses the "all-star" category, but it's still a job-growth overachiever. Getty Images

In terms of job growth, Houston has consistently outperformed the U.S. average in recent years, a new report finds.

The report from commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield recognizes the Bayou City as one of the top metros for job growth among 35 major areas from 2009 — at the end of the Great Recession — to 2018.

For the report, Cushman & Wakefield analyzed the percentage change in job growth from 2009 to 2018 for the 35 metro areas and the number of jobs those regions added during the same period. The company's researchers then averaged those two figures to compute an overall score for each metro area.

The Bayou City added 512,400 jobs from 2009 to 2018, a growth rate of 19.9 percent, well above the national average (11 percent) — landing in the "overachievers" group of metros. Houston has an overall score of 13. In Cushman & Wakefield's assessment, the lower the number, the better.

Houston just misses the "all-stars" category, the classification the report gives six metros that each added jobs at a "breakneck pace" during the current economic expansion.

Dallas-Fort Worth ranks No. 1 on the "all-star" list, with an overall score of 5. The report shows that from 2009 to 2018, Dallas-Fort Worth added 754,200 jobs for a growth rate of 25.7 percent. Austin ranks No. 5, with an overall score of 8.5. From 2009 to 2018, Austin added 295,000 jobs for a growth rate of 38.1 percent, the largest percent increase of the metros analyzed.

In descending order, the all-star metros cited by Cushman & Wakefield are DFW; New York City and San Francisco, (each with a score of 7.5, tied for second place); Riverside-San Bernardino, California (score of 8, fourth place); Austin (8.5, fifth place); and Orlando, Florida (9, sixth place).

(While Austin registered the largest percentage increase in jobs, the growth in sheer number of jobs places it at No. 16 among the 35 metro areas for total employment growth. Once those two figures were averaged, Austin sat at No. 5 in the metro rankings.)

San Antonio, with an overall score of 18.5, also lands in the "overachievers" class.

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A version of this story originally appeared on CultureMap.