Choosing Massachusetts for Business: Key Factors in Location Decision Making

Zakim_SkyA study commissioned by the non-partisan economic development organization, MassEcon, and conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute‘s Economic and Public Policy Research group, was recently released. The good news is that the vast majority of companies that chose Massachusetts as a place to expand their business would do it again. This consensus was largely based on Massachusetts’ innovative economy, industry clusters, and skilled workforce.

As with all good news, there are some troubling challenges and concerns that were voiced by the businesses about future growth in the Commonwealth:

  • TRANSPORTATION: Companies in Greater Boston are concerned about highway congestion and public transit capacity, while businesses outside the urban core worry about a shortage of public transportation. MBTA reliability is vital to the ability to attract and retain workers, expressing concerns that not enough is being done to accommodate a growing population.
  • HOUSING: The availability and affordability of housing was a significant concern statewide, a challenge to attracting and keeping employees, especially younger employees. Costs in Greater Boston, in particular, are inordinately high, limiting options for low and middle-income workers.
  • BUSINESS COSTS: In general, for companies locating in Greater Boston the advantage of skilled labor outweighed various higher business costs; but labor, health care, and energy costs were identified as challenges to business in Massachusetts. Business costs seemed to be of less concern to those companies that considered and compared other states than to those already doing business in the Commonwealth. Companies engaged in manufacturing were more sensitive to cost challenges of health care and energy than companies in Greater Boston.
  • QUALITY OF FUTURE LABOR SUPPLY: Although more than 90 percent of survey respondents said the availability and quality of the workforce were important to their decision to locate in Massachusetts, some companies are struggling to find enough technically trained workers and those with middle-level skills. Continuing to produce talented labor must be a priority for the state, respondents indicated.
  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE: While over half of the businesses surveyed were solidly favorable about the effectiveness of economic development officials in helping them become established in Massachusetts, others reported that the system is confusing.  Some said they sought a “roadmap” with which to navigate the various economic development organizations.

The Commonwealth has been experiencing one of the best periods of economic growth in its recent history. The problem with success is that it sometimes breeds complacency. If we are to maintain and enhance our position as one of the best locations to grow a business, we had better heed the warnings and fix our own house before it begins to lose its luster against all the many worldwide competing centers for growth.

2016 Greater Boston Real Estate Confidence Index

­This post originally appeared on Solomon McCown’s blog.
Greater Boston’s real estate market has been on a bender – record-shattering sales, huge demand for office space in key submarkets such as Kendall Square and the Seaport and massive amounts of new luxury residential filling up in record time. But will these trends continue?

Solomon McCown and NAIOP Massachusetts teamed up on our first Real Estate Confidence Index to check the pulse of the industry and see if this run will continue – or are we “in the seventh inning?”

From a pool of more than 200 real estate industry respondents, 63 percent feel the Boston market is still rising (either quickly or slowly) and only ONE percent thinks we are already on the decline. Just about a third of respondents (31 percent) say we’ve plateaued. A whopping 76 percent have a positive outlook for our city just one year from now, with almost 56 percent continuing to be confident for the next three years.

See below to dig in on the confidence factors for the submarkets, new vs. existing construction and specific sectors. How confident are you? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter at @SMCRealEstatePR or @naiopma.

confidenceindex2016

Speaking of Real Estate

NAIOP Massachusetts is kicking off a video series we will be calling “Speaking of Real Estate”.

The idea behind this effort is to interview leaders in the commercial real estate industry, including developers, owners, investors, as well as some of the heads of the major professional service firms that support our business.

We are starting with a very candid discussion between Tom Alperin, President, National Development and Marc Margulies, Founder and Principal, Margulies Perruzzi Architects. They cover a range of topics that include affordable housing, new design considerations, shared economy, and looking to the future for the industry.

We plan on bringing you the opportunity to hear from individuals that are in the forefront of creating our new urban and suburban “live, work and play” environments. Who are some CRE leaders you would like to hear from in this series? Let us know in the comments section below.

A Great Start for Economic Development Under the Baker/Polito Administration

BakerGovernor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito just filed the administration’s Economic Development bill with $1 billion to be invested over the next five years into economic development, housing and job training across the Commonwealth.

A core principal of this legislation is to take various existing programs and make enhancements to them so that they become more widely used, more effective, recapitalized, and more user-friendly:

  • MassWorks ($500 million proposed capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that provides municipalities and other public entities with public infrastructure grants to support economic development and job creation.
  • Brownfields Redevelopment Fund ($75 million proposed capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
  • Housing-Related Tax Increment Financing: Supports housing production in town centers by reforming a seldom-used local-only smart growth tax incentive program, removing onerous regulations, and allowing communities to set their own affordability requirements.
  • Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) Reform: Supports the development of market-rate housing in Gateway Cities by allowing credits to support new construction, and by raising the formula that sets housing development incentives.
  • I-Cubed Reform: Reforms the I-Cubed infrastructure program by removing unnecessary program requirements (such as eliminating the per-municipality cap on the number of projects that may participate and raising the aggregate limit of funds from the I-cubed program that may be used in any one municipality from 31% to 50%) building flexibility into the program, and aligning program requirements with the demonstrated project pipeline.
  • Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) Reforms: Builds accountability in the state’s primary job-creation incentive program by strengthening the link between the issuance of tax credits, and job creation that would not otherwise occur; adds flexibility to the incentive program by eliminating obsolete formula-driven incentive categories, and by creating a new Extraordinary Development Opportunity designation.

In addition, the bill creates two important provisions:

  • Site Readiness Fund ($25 million proposed capital authorization): Advances regional job creation by creating a new fund for site assembly and pre-development activities (including site assessment and cleanup) that support regionally significant commercial or industrial development opportunities.
  • “Starter Home” Zoning: Incentivizes the creation of smaller, denser, and more affordable single-family homes by creating a new starter home option under the Chapter 40R smart growth housing program. These projects will also allow the municipality to be eligible for school reimbursements under Chapter 40S.
  • Parking Management Districts: Aligns local parking policies with broader economic development priorities by enabling municipalities to opt into creating demand-based parking fees, and allowing parking fees to support capital improvements in designated districts, like downtowns.

In addition, there are new programs with a Massachusetts Innovation Initiative, Workforce Development, and Economic Competitiveness.

We are very supportive of the bill, which contains many of NAIOP’s priorities. This legislation will be one of NAIOP’s top priorities for the remainder of the legislative session.

My Top Ten Predictions for 2016

2015-6

With one of the best years for the commercial real estate industry almost behind us, what does 2016 look like?  Here are my predictions for the coming year:

1.    Neither casino (Springfield and Everett) will get their final clearances and will certainly not start construction.

2.    The Fed will make another move up in the interest rates.

3.    Foreign investment will dominate investments in commercial properties in the Greater Boston area, but local buyers will still be the major high-end condo buyer.

4.    The Green Line extension will be redesigned at a lower projected cost and will move forward.

5.    Some Boston or Cambridge office leases will hit $90 PSF gross.

6.    The Northern Avenue Bridge will be approved to accommodate vehicular access.

7.    A major office lease will be penned for either of the spec Seaport buildings (Pier 4 or 121 Seaport Boulevard).

8.    A developer will be selected for the Winthrop Square garage site.

9.    Patriots win the Super Bowl!

10.    The Republican presidential convention will not reach consensus on the first 5 ballots.

By the way, here were my predictions for 2015. I think I did pretty well, don’t you (well, other than the hurricane!)?

1.    Foreign buyers will outspend domestic investors for Boston and Cambridge properties and will make a dent in some communities along 128 (e.g. Burlington and Waltham). They will also be a major buyer of Boston condos.

2.    Boston properties will be seeing a record number of office properties changing hands with some of those properties having already transferred ownership within the last 3 years.

3.    No surprise that office rental rates in Boston and the surrounding areas will be increasing. I predict a minimum of 10% over this year. Apartment rents will continue to rise with some resistance in the newest buildings.

4.    The Wynn Casino construction project will not be starting in 2015.

5.    There will be one speculative office building announced in Cambridge, that’s it.

6.    Design firms will have their busiest year renovating spaces and providing greater efficiency for existing tenants.

7.    Construction costs are going to be up substantially, especially in downtown Boston, with greater difficulties getting multiple competitive subcontractor bids.

8.    Boston will experience a major hurricane this coming Fall with substantial flooding due to storm surge.

9.    The Federal Reserve will finally raise rates.

10.    Boston will be selected by the US Olympic Committee to represent the US bid for the Summer Olympics.

 

Housing Costs May Cost Us Our Young Talent

This post originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on November 20, 2015.

ApartmentsIn the coming years, the Massachusetts economy may be at serious risk. The Commonwealth’s most valuable resource is its educated, skilled talent. Maintaining that resource is essential for continued economic growth. However, there is a threat which is making that goal harder and harder to achieve. Massachusetts has one of the highest housing costs in the nation – a significant barrier for talent recruitment and retention. Without an adequate supply of workforce housing, Massachusetts may soon lose that talent to other, more affordable, markets.

The UMass Donahue Institute’s Population Estimates Program concluded that the state’s population will increase by nearly 300,000 over a 20-year period. Good news, but the population of Massachusetts grew only by 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the U.S. population increased by 9.7 percent. Of concern, the study also projects an increasingly older population for the state.

Though a good portion of Massachusetts’ growth is driven by a net natural increase (number of births greater than deaths), a larger share of the growth is attributed to net immigration. Looking more closely, there is a net domestic outflow of residents (more people moved out of Massachusetts than into it from other parts of the U.S.), offset by a large number of international immigrants.

This is occurring during a boom time for the Greater Boston region, while the rest of the country, with a few exceptions, is still working its way out of the recession. Another way of looking at it is that, for the past few years, there have not been many job opportunities attracting our younger workers away from the state.

It was not that long ago that most of the country was experiencing stronger job growth than Massachusetts. As documented in a 2003 University of Massachusetts/MassINC report, Mass. Migration, over 200,000 more domestic residents moved out of Massachusetts than moved into the state between 1990 and 2002. And then, between 2002 and 2004, that imbalance became worse.

Fortunately, at that time, foreign immigrants helped to offset these population losses, but they frequently arrived with lower levels of education and skills than those who were leaving. Those departing tended to be younger, better educated, and more likely to be employed in a knowledge-intensive industry.

These trends will have substantial workforce and business implications and should be a call to action. The costs of both rental and for sale housing have been accelerating, reaching record highs. More and more young individuals and families are being priced out of the market. In some cases, the problem is restrictive zoning, other municipalities are shunning any housing that increases the school population, and in some markets, the cost of construction makes workforce housing uneconomical.

The solutions may be difficult, political, and costly, but without action at the state and local levels, the future of the Massachusetts economy is at risk.

Boston May Be Hurt By Its Development Successes

construction-tools

Construction costs have been increasing steadily over the last four years, up 8% from 2011 to 2013 and they are on track for, at least, another 4% this year. That is good news for labor, but it may not be so good for future development. Material costs are also climbing with structural steel and reinforcing bars up double digits over the last 12 months. There are substantial increases projected for other building materials like gypsum, cement and lumber.

The explosion of construction has left some developers finding it more difficult to even attract bids from some subcontractors. After being burnt in the last downturn, many subcontracting companies scaled back and have chosen not to take the risks of accelerated expansions of their companies.

With new developments projected to start this year and next, and additional large scale projects on the drawing boards or in permitting, the demand for labor and materials will only increase, pushing costs up even higher.

What many developers are nervous about down the road is the start of the mega projects. The convention center expansion and the Winn casino in Everett are sure to “suck the oxygen” out of the construction environment.

Unfortunately, at some point the construction costs are going to make a number of commercial and/or multi-family developments infeasible. In a free market, one would expect labor to move into the area when demand is strong and supply limited. Unfortunately, our high cost of living (especially housing) will severely limit that correction in the market. The last recession brought down construction costs. Let’s hope we can find a different solution this time around.