FRESNO COUNTY ECONOMIC FORECAST: IS A WET BLANKET ON THE HORIZON?
Experts largely see Fresno County reaping the benefits of what the deadly virus changed culturally. Remote work, a dire need for housing and the demand for warehouse space have sent millions of dollars to area. But rising entitlement costs and dwindling development space have tempered the potential for growth. Industrial real estate has been the largest benefactor of stay-at-home orders with warehouses hiring thousands of people in Fresno and Visalia. But in both cities, available shovel-ready land has largely been exhausted. “Fresno County has been the center for people from all over the state and all over the country looking at expanding or for a new place to move,” said Lee Ann Eager, CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation.
Industrial brokers often tell Eager Fresno has become a hot market. But with vacancy rates at .02%, there isn’t much available. New construction sites have nearly been exhausted. Earlier this year the EDC spoke with a company that wanted to bring a 1 million square-foot warehouse to the area and 2,500 jobs. Eager had to say no because she estimated the process would take three years whereas they wanted to be up and running in 18 months.
A land-use study by Fresno County officials for 3,000 acres in Southeast Fresno will hopefully go before the board in January 2022 for approval to begin an environmental impact review so the county can begin installing infrastructure on the land, speeding up development times for businesses looking to locate here. Among five sections of land, Eager estimates there are about 20 landowners each the County would have to negotiate with to secure land. Unlike high-speed rail, Eager said the County will not use eminent domain.
Additionally, they have been begun talking with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to explore pollution impacts to the area. Industrial development has been a hot button issue after community members worked for years to get regional specific plans approved with the City of Fresno. An Amazon sorting facility set to open in the beginning of the year at North Pointe Business Park was only approved after it reached an agreement with community organizations to upgrade streets and outfit homes to better withstand sound and pollution impacts from trucks.
Community members in Southwest Fresno have often expressed their desire for more retail businesses rather than industrial development at community meetings and Planning Commission meetings. Eager said retailers have their own metrics about population densities as well as area median incomes before locating. Nonetheless, initial plans for the 3,000 acres would put retail zoning around the perimeter to create a buffer zone for communities such as Malaga. It’s not just been industrial development that has been hot in Fresno. Eager has been working with partners in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, courting service-type businesses to expand to Fresno County. Unlike industrial land, there is office space available. The most recent industry report from Newmark Pearson Commercial in Q4 2020 has office vacancies at 10.4% with a 12-month forecast for that number to rise.
New construction for office space is beset by lenders waiting to see what the future of the service industry has in store. The same can be said for most retail, said Alan Rurik and Tom Walker, partners with Capitalize, a commercial lending broker in Fresno. Companies such as Adobe, Amazon and Apple have all made announcements that workers would continue to work from home. This has spurred lenders to scrutinize when providing loans for new construction, said Rurik. “It’s not an immediate ‘no’ if you bring in a retail center, but it’s kind of getting back to blocking and tackling, It’s like — what’s the tenant mix, what’s the location?” Walker said. “If you can’t check the boxes, you don’t have the minimum requirements then you’re probably going to have a really difficult time getting a loan in today’s environment.”