BLDUP Spotlight and Q&A – David Begelfer, Reesa Fischer and Tamara Small of NAIOP Massachusetts

This post comes from BLDUP.com: BLDUP Spotlight – David Begelfer, Reesa Fischer and Tamara Small of NAIOP Massachusetts

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Last week NAIOP announced that David Begelfer would be retiring after more than 27 years leading the organization. NAIOP’s Board of Directors voted Reesa Fischer, currently Chief Operating Officer, and Tamara Small, currently Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, to co-lead the association. Fischer will serve as Executive Director with operational, financial, programming and membership/marketing oversight. Small will serve as Chief Executive Officer with oversight of the organization’s government affairs and lobbying activities, public relations, and research. BLDUP sat down with the three industry leaders to discuss the transition and NAIOP’s goals for the future.

BLDUP: For our readers that are not familiar, what is NAIOP?

Tamara Small: Officially NAIOP is The Commercial Real Estate Development Association. Long ago NAIOP stood for National Association of Industrial and Office Parks. It was then changed to National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.  In 2009, the national organization recognized we represented so much more than industrial and office properties.  They did not want to lose the brand recognition that NAIOP had so they kept the acronym, but changed what it stood for.  We now represent office, retail, mixed-use, multifamily, lab and institutional space here in Massachusetts. We are the largest of all the NAIOP chapters at nearly 1,700 members.

Reesa Fischer: Our membership is made up of a variety of industry leaders.  While we are primarily (60%), owners, developers, and operators, the other 40% is made up of attorneys, brokers, and everyone else who supports the commercial real estate industry.  This variety of folks involved in the organization is also a big differentiator for NAIOP.  We operate based on a 3 legs of the stool principle, government affairs advocacy, events/education & networking.

BLDUP:  What is NAIOP forecasting for the Boston market?  Are there any trends you are seeing?

David Begelfer: What I see as our greatest risk going forward is probably not a recession, at least locally.  The Boston market is quite strong and we do not see a lot of oversupply or speculative projects.

A serious downturn does not look like it’s in the cards for the next 2-3 years but we do anticipate somewhat of a slow down because of our success. There are two major components exceeding inflation, land cost and construction costs (the biggest part being labor costs) and these two issues affect development.  We have a very tight market with regards to the construction industry and the number of people and subcontractors.  We also have barriers for entry for companies and individuals to move in from out of state because of the high cost of living.  We are seeing inflation in costs of land/construction because of our dynamic economy. Because of this, we are already starting to price out residential rent projects, pushing them toward condos.

Another aspect of this looming problem is the limited capacity of skilled unemployed workers that can fuel the market going forward.  We have relied upon immigration from out of the country for the last 25 years of growth.  Immigration is starting to have some cracks for various reasons (policy, political, practical economic).  We have concerns that the constant flow is drying up and Massachusetts has always had a problem with net migration out of the state.  The bottom line, as I see it, is that we are at a greater risk from our success than from a possible recession.

BLDUP:  David, What is your proudest achievement as outgoing CEO of NAIOP?

David Begelfer:  It is very hard to choose one particular moment, but if I had to take an overview of the past 27+ years, I’m very proud of the “secret sauce” of NAIOP.  From the start, the secret sauce was to integrate the top professionals and engage in our organization primarily in government affairs and advocacy.  It’s very difficult to handle the wide range of issues that we deal with, regulatory, legislative, judicial, policy and then within each of those baskets another array of issues from environmental, transportation, economic, building codes, all across the map.  The only way we have been able to handle this and provide expert feedback is the unbelievably involved professionals who work with us. This has allowed us to expand the breadth and depth of issues that we deal with and we have done it in a way that we can give something back. We can’t pay for this counsel but instead, we offer networking, connections, and leadership opportunities to add value to our relationships and provide a win/win for everyone involved.  The involvement and growth of volunteerism within the organization is the greatest success I could imagine.

Additionally, we have been able to bring some of the top people in the industry onto our staff.  One of the reasons this is a seamless transition is that others have developed expertise within our organization. It was very easy to choose Reesa & Tamara to move forward into the leadership of the organization.

Reesa Fischer: I feel it is important to mention David’s ability to embrace change.  Most trade associations are very stagnant and very conservative.  They do what they do and as long as it’s not broken they don’t fix it is. One thing we value at NAIOP (and it’s why I love working here) is that embracing change is what it’s going to take to stay competitive.  We like to think of our organization as a disruptor and we are always trying new things that people wouldn’t necessarily expect from a trade association.

David Begelfer: We are always looking to see what can be changed and done differently.  There is no complacency in this organization. People talk about having periodic strategic plans; we strategically think about our organization throughout the year.  That may cause more work, but it keeps us relevant. You can’t fight change you have to embrace it!

BLDUP: Government affairs and advocacy is a big part of what you do. How do you work to accomplish your advocacy goals?

Tamara Small: We have our eyes and ears on anything that would have an impact on the industry and we weigh in wherever appropriate – whether it’s legislative, regulatory or judicial advocacy.  The process is a very collaborative one.  We have over 200 people on our Government Affairs committee and a very active board of directors who provide input. This expertise allows us to provide real-world examples that illustrate the impact of any proposed changes.

As an example, we just wrapped up the legislative session which ran from January 2017 through July 31, 2018.  There were about 8,000 bills filed this session and we tracked hundreds of them, provided testimony, served on legislative task forces and met with legislators.  Clearly, no legislator can be an expert on every single issue. So, for those issues that are of interest to us, we provide substantive, factual information on how the bill would affect the commercial real estate industry – and often the greater overall economy. Through this approach, we have built strong relationships with legislators and regulators.

A good example of how NAIOP handles advocacy would be a provision of the economic development bill that was signed into law by Governor Baker on August 10. The bill includes language that will bring clarity to the development process for properties along railroad rights of way. The process had been a source of frustration to the development community for many years. So, through our government affairs committee, we drafted a legislative fix and worked for 8 years to educate lawmakers on the need for the change. Through the leadership of key legislators and MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack, we were able to work together on language that was signed into law. It will bring transparency and predictability to the development process – two things that are critical for any real estate project.   Talking about railroad rights of way may not be the most exciting topic, but it is one of those things that will affect important transit-oriented projects throughout the Commonwealth.

BLDUP:  What is the next legislative issue you will be focusing on?

Looking ahead, our three areas of focus will be: Housing, Transportation, and Climate Resiliency

We believe that climate resiliency is a top priority for the industry. It’s an economic development issue.  We were very supportive of the climate change legislation that passed this session. The bill that was passed requires the Commonwealth to develop a climate adaptation plan, complete vulnerability assessments at the state and local levels, and identify how the public and private sectors can work together to really think through what climate change means for the real estate industry and for the greater economy.

Another broader economic development issue that we are passionate about is the need for more workforce housing.  We were very supportive of Governor Baker’s housing bill.  We worked with all of the business groups as well as the Mass Municipal Association to try and get that passed in the final hours of the legislative session, but unfortunately, it didn’t make it. In my mind, it would have been the most significant housing bill in years.  We also thought it was very significant that we had such a broad coalition of support for the first time in 30 years of discussion around this issue. We are going to continue to push for this in the next session, which kicks off in January.

Our third big area is transportation. We will continue to advocate for an efficient, world-class transportation system in MA.  We need the type of system that allows people to get in and out of the city and to expanding areas with ease.  We are going to be looking at that in the next legislative session to ensure we can expand on existing capacity.

BLDUP:  Reesa & Tamara what are your goals for the NAIOP in next 5-10 years and David what would you like to see continue after you retire?

David Begelfer: I do think that NAIOP is going to continue to sit on the same 3 legs of the stool, advocacy, education, programming/networking.  Every member gets something from one or all of these areas.  We need to take a look at new technology, be proactive, be entrepreneurial, be thoughtful, and stay in touch with members and their needs.  We also want to offer new platforms for information.

One thing that is NOT going to be happening, is people are NOT going to be totally virtual. They want to meet face to face. That’s never going to change.  You will always need networking.

We have also taken a look at online learning and have seen a much greater demand for face to face learning but in a tighter timeline.  We are moving into podcasts.  That seems to be a very popular way for people to get information while driving, walking, or spinning. It’s hard to plan for the future when technology is changing so quickly.  Right now we have a partnership with the MIT Center for Real Estate that enables us to see what is on the cutting edge of the industry.  We just need to continue to keep an open mind.

Reesa Fischer: It’s about expanding the information and knowledge the we can provide the members and providing them with different options of delivery. People are just so busy and not everyone can come to a site event.  Some people prefer podcasts or live webinars.  We need to expand our information and methods of delivery to stay relevant.

We have also seen a huge demand for professional development skills that are outside of the industry.  The membership is looking to be able to provide skills for their talent.  Talent is a big issue right now, retaining and obtaining.  Learning professional skills while networking and engaging with people in the industry is a unique opportunity we can provide our members.

Tamara Small:  We are nothing without members. We look forward to working with our many member-driven committees and continually seeking feedback directly from the industry.  As Reesa and I transition to our new roles, we will be sitting down with our leadership and members to do our own focus groups in order to understand what they need. We look forward to growing and expanding with them.

Reesa Fischer:  Yes, we are very externally focused!

BLDUP:  What is the last book you read that you would recommend and why?

Reesa Fischer: The Road to Recognition by Seth Price.  Seth is a local guy who runs Placester and did a keynote at one of our marketing conferences.  The book is about building your personal brand which plays into a corporate brand: being authentic, setting up expectations, meeting expectations.  Detailing ways to keep you competitive either personally or professionally. It’s how I look at our organization so that we can continue to be important in the industry.

Tamara Small: Starting Small and Making It Big: An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Billion-Dollar Philanthropist by Bill Cummings.  It is interesting to hear his rags to riches story and his unbelievable drive and entrepreneurial spirit that have helped create his company.  The book provides history about the CRE industry but also an inside look at one of the most entrepreneurial people I’ve encountered.  He is also someone who has really devoted a good part of his career now to charitable endeavors and that is very admirable.

David Begelfer: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.  It’s astounding the genius that was there but not just genius: the genius was combined with unbelievable curiosity.  Almost anything he saw he wanted to look further into it. It’s frightening that a lot of what he discovered was never published and lost for hundreds of years. People would rediscover these things hundreds of years later.  He discovered something about how the heart works but it was not actually verified until 1970. He was way ahead of his time. It is a very fascinating read and again it was not just intelligence but a need to be entrepreneurial and also a great observer and creative.

BLDUP:  It is important to note that despite the CRE industry being primarily male, NAIOP’s new leadership team is female.  Tamara and Reesa what are your thoughts on this.

Reesa Fischer:  Just a little history, when I started here 8 years ago, the percentage of women in the industry and in NAIOP was significantly lower.  It is really exciting to see that women have very quickly been getting involved.  Our female membership rates have gone from around 10% up to 28-30%.

About 7 years ago we started an annual event, the Women of Influence luncheon. It sells out 200+ tickets every year with wait lists of people.  I think the pipeline is filling up as young women are starting to come into the industry and seeing there are a variety of ways to get involved, not just brokerage but in the development world as well.

Women are very organized and project management focused and very collaborative and that is what this industry is.  It’s about time women recognize they can actually play an important role. We are also more women in senior roles and running companies.

Our Distinguished Real Estate Award recipient this year is Related Beal, run by Kimberly Sherman Stamler.  Our President-elect for next year is also a woman so the top 3 levels of our organization will be female.  We are very excited to feel like we are following the trend and blazing new trails for women in the industry.

Tamara Small:  Going forward we will operate under a collaborative leadership structure which we found is much more common with women.  Reesa and I have worked together for so many years and we both have our own unique strengths so we are excited to continue this and take NAIOP to the next level.

David Begelfer: We have not said we want to have women run the organization, we have put into place the best people we have for the position and they happen to be women.  They are stepping up and being chosen to lead because of their skills.

BLDUP:  David, to conclude on more of a personal note, what are your plans for your new free time?

David Begelfer:  I have a lot of interests to stay active and involved in the industry.  I love to travel, play golf, those are wonderful things, but I don’t see that as sufficient to keep me alive and well and excited about my future. I’m looking into opportunities that will allow me to keep active and participate in this active industry. I am mostly looking forward to being a member of NAIOP and getting all the value that a member gets from being involved.

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