By Paul Bubny
If any property sector seems better positioned than others during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s industrial, at least from the standpoint of a casual observer. The boom in e-commerce has gotten a turbo boost from consumers who are living under government-mandated shelter-in-place orders. However, SIOR President Mark Duclos, an industrial broker himself as president of Sentry Commercial, notes that many other industries that drive demand for industrial space have been hit hard by the shutdown. In this interview with Connect Media, Duclos discusses the impact that COVID-19 has had on industrial and the ways that SIOR has surmounted its temporary inability to hold conferences and become a resource for both its own membership and the communities in which they operate.
A: It’s still early in the game. As long as we’ve been in this already, it’s still early in terms of understanding how this is going to affect the market long-term. Short-term, it has absolutely affected the market. The $2-trillion stimulus package is certainly going to be a big help. But you also have supply chains that were affected by the original events in China, and now with the coronavirus happening here, there has been further disruption. However, it seems that supply chains in areas like grocery have stabilized. You’re seeing a better flow of product into grocery stores. On the e-commerce side, Walmart and Amazon have said that they’re hiring and are likely to continue hiring through May. There are certain winners here that are continuing to do what they were doing before the coronavirus, and then some. And there are losers, certainly: the airline industry, retail, the oil and gas industry. Short-term, these companies are in a lot of pain. How long it will take them to get out of it, which affects the long-term prospects for industrial—we don’t know yet.
Q: This is different from something like the 2008 financial crisis, in terms of predicting how it will unfold.
A: Absolutely. In the 2008 financial crisis, you had a meltdown of the financial markets. Here, the financial markets were very healthy. One of the beauties of being in an organization like SIOR is that we have online forums, and our members, some of whom are landlords as well as brokers, have a view into the open market in terms of advising our clients how to proceed. We’re seeing the issue of rent forgiveness coming up, and the other thing we’re seeing on the lending side is three months or six months of interest-only payments, and tag that onto the back of an existing loan. But this is happening very much on a case-by-case basis. Some companies are doing well and don’t need the relief, while others won’t be back in the swing of things for a while.
Q: How is belonging to an organization like SIOR especially valuable at a time like this? And how are members networking in the absence of face-to-face contact?
A: It’s not that you don’t have emergency plans in place, but nobody had a plan for the country being suddenly locked down. So, we’ve been looking at what we can best do as an organization to provide our members with some resources they can use to run their business. Physical networking is gone for a while. We had to cancel our TransACT 360 conference that was scheduled to take place at the end of April, and we’re not holding SIOR chapter meetings. In addition to the open forum, we set up an online town hall where we can discuss specific topics, and share initiatives that we’ve been working on with the members. We’re replacing the lost opportunities from the live events. Forty percent of our membership is independent brokers, and they use SIOR predominantly for information like this.
Q: Talk about SIOR CARE and the impetus behind launching this initiative.
A: When you’re in a situation like this as a group, the first thing you do is to look inward and say, “What do I need to do to survive this crisis?” Then you take a deep breath and say, “How can we help others survive a crisis like this? How can we use our skillsets as brokers and advisors in the real estate industry to help others?” Therefore, we launched the SIOR CARE [Community Assistance and Relief in Emergencies] program in order to reach out to communities—nonprofits, but also for-profits as well—on anything we can do to help them with their real estate resources. It might be a food bank that’s looking for additional warehouse space. It might be the Red Cross that needs more temporary facilities for blood drives. We’re excited to see how this develops.
Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism.
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