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.

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Building Houston

 
 

Data Gumbo, founded and led by Andrew Bruce, has announced its latest funding. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

A Houston-based tech company has announced another round of funding to support its blockchain network growth as well as to establish a presence in the Middle East.

Data Gumbo has closed its series B funding round totaling $7.7 million with follow-on investments led by Equinor Ventures. The round includes participation from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Bay Area and Houston-based venture firm L37. The round's first close was announced in September 2020 at $4 million. The additional funds to close the Series B will be used to scale Data Gumbo to serve demand for GumboNet™ and GumboNet™ ESG. Additionally, Data Gumbo plans to establish a presence in the Middle East to cover expected demand growth in the region.

"The successful close of our series B is continued proof of the efficacy and booming interest in our ability to capture critical cost savings, deliver trust and provide transparency across commercial relationships," says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Compounded by the growing demand for transparent, accurate sustainability data and the launch of our automated ESG measurement solution, GumboNet™ ESG, Data Gumbo's trajectory is well-positioned to serve our growing customer base by ensuring economic productivity and value. This infusion of capital will support our expansion efforts as we bring more international users to our network."

With this latest raise, Data Gumbo's total funding raised to date is $18.4 million.

"Data Gumbo's success is marked by a wide variety of business use cases and opportunities for expansion," says Bruce Niven, chief investment officer at Aramco Ventures, in the release. "Our continued investment is a testament to our continued support as the company attracts new customers, experiences further demand for its network and gains traction in new markets."

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

"Data Gumbo is the market leader for smart contracts backed by blockchain, and the coming year will be a period of exponential growth for the company as they penetrate new industrial markets," says Kemal Farid, partner at L37, in the release. "We believe strongly that GumboNet will become the de facto network for smart contracts across industries for capturing value and solving enormous pain points in contractual relations. Additionally, as companies move to meet increasing sustainability measurement demands and ESG improvements, there is a huge growth path available for Data Gumbo with the launch of GumboNet ESG."

Earlier this year, the company announced its environmental, social and corporate governance tracking and reporting tool.

"Equinor's recent pilot at the Johan Sverdrup field has demonstrated that GumboNet can create strong value for the partnership," says Gareth Burns, head of Equinor Ventures, in the release. "Our follow-on investment confirms Equinor Ventures' confidence in Data Gumbo's solution for our company and the broader energy industry."

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