FRESNO COUNTY ECON FORECAST: BRICK-AND-MORTAR TRANSITIONING, BUT HERE TO STAY
Fresno County businesses, farmers and retailers have weathered a tornado of unpredictable events in 2020. But in 2021, commercial and residential real estate are expected to thrive. Ethan Smith, a broker at Newmark Pearson Commercial in Fresno, specializes in industrial real estate. He says that Fresno’s commercial real estate market is growing. “Industrial has continued to be incredibly active since we sort of shifted gears due to the pandemic,” Smith said. He said demand continues to outpace supply, but it can take a while for pricing to catch up to market changes.
Spring brought concern about the economy, but conditions are not looking nearly as poor as experts first thought. “As things have settled down, we haven’t seen the doom and gloom predictions that people have thought,” Smith said. Industrial firms were deemed essential from the start, which might have helped, and will continue to help in 2021. “Small businesses locally tend to be pretty resilient; we actually still see demand because businesses are growing,” he said.
Some businesses need to lease more space. However, growth can be tough between businesses and banks. “Banks are being more judicious with their lending. However, we’re not seeing the same things during the financial crisis where liquidity just went away,” he said. Low interest rates means cash is cheap at the moment.
The housing market is also booming, and will continue to stay that way in the near future. But Smith and Danyelle Conner, real estate agent at London Properties in Fresno, said it’s because inventory is low. Thus, prices continue to climb. “The market right now continues to be pretty hot,” Conner said. Traditionally November slows down because people like to decorate their homes for the holidays, Conner says. “But as par for the course this year, nothing has been traditional with Covid, and we’re not really seeing a slowdown like we typically would expect right now,” Conner said. “Buyers are also willing to pay the prices sellers are asking, but I have had a few issues with appraisals lately,” Conner said. “Buyers are willing to pay it, but appraisers are not willing to give it the value.” This has potential to make buyers want to come down on the price if appraisers think it’s too high.
Office space has not died off as first predicted. Projects are still under construction because people want to work in a collaborative, in-person setting. Small and medium sized businesses rely on the office because of the lack of accommodation for sophisticated information systems available working from home. “The obituaries that were written about the offices were incredibly premature. And there’s no obituary,” Smith said. Many office workers have been negatively affected by school closures, as was the agriculture industry, which delivers mass amounts of fruit, vegetables and milk to grade schools. Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of Fresno County Farm Bureau, says that Covid will continue to play a role in the 2021 agriculture forecast. “Overall, the commodities definitely are lower than what we’ve seen in the past decade, and a lot of that is attributed to the softer foreign markets for some of the products that are more heavily demanded worldwide,” Jacobsen said. This will play a role in foreign trade in the Covid era looking into 2021. “Central Valley agriculture is very dependent upon foreign trade, and so our hope is that the worldwide economy still demands California produce,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen hopes the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal will pay dividends in 2021. Aside from Covid-related differences, water runoff was below average year, so the agriculture industry hopes to have a better water year in 2021 because it means more crops in the ground. In 2021, retail giants like Amazon, Target, and Walmart could change the small business front. “The retail industry already was changing. The pandemic — people staying home — has only accelerated what was already happening,” Smith said. There is a shift as retailers occupy more warehouse space and use their own delivery infrastructure to accommodate consumers quicker, which could spur industrial construction. “The expectation on the customer’s end is not waiting five to seven days for delivery anymore,” Smith said.
The outlook for restaurants is certainly not bright, especially as Fresno County reenters the most restrictive purple tier on the state’s lockdown list. This week, Fresno Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer said on a panel discussion with California mayors that 30-40% of restaurants in Fresno will never open again, reported gvwire.com. Smith says we will continue to see the weeding out of businesses who can’t survive the temporary 30-40% decrease in sales until the economy levels out, which may occur in summer 2021. But online retailers born during the pandemic also see the value of operating a brick-and-mortar. Nicole Zieba, Reedley city manager, and Alex Henderson, Kingsburg city manager, both remain optimistic about 2021. Reedley has a 90-day operating fund reserve for 2021. And both Kingsburg and Reedley cities show rapid commercial and residential development. For instance, Reedley has been targeting advanced food manufacturing to reported success.
Then there is the incoming T-Mobile call center in Kingsburg, which Henderson says will bring 1,000 jobs to the city. The 100,000 square foot customer experience center is slated for early 2021, after being on hold for the past year.