I had the pleasure of attending the Global Diversity Summit, a conference designed to help increase the number of ethnic minorities in the commercial real estate industry, on October 11, 2012, here in Atlanta, Georgia. This was my second time attending the Global Diversity Summit, so I knew I was in for a day of intriguing presentations and discussions from both the speakers and attendees at the conference. The morning started with a sector overview in which the speakers discussed impacts of the national economy on the real estate market, the status of the retail industry and its impacts on real estate, the rental environment both across the nation and in Atlanta, trends in the office rental market, and finally an industrial real estate overview.

A topic that captured my interest during one of the morning sessions was on the discussion regarding the impacts of e-commerce, mobile commerce, and social media on the way retailers operate. This shifting market for how consumers purchase goods will have impacts on the type of real estate establishments needed in the future. It was noted that stores themselves are likely to get smaller or more specialized, while industrial buildings such as distribution centers will likely increase in size and quantity. It seems that the e-commerce industry is continuously growing and customers want goods faster; these shifts in consumer preferences will drive the need for more distribution centers. These centers are also likely to be built in more centralized locations to cater to the need to deliver goods to more consumers in shorter time.

It was noted that one challenge the real estate industry will face in this task to build industrial properties is doing so in such a way that neighboring residential land owners will not be opposed to the construction. It will be important to build the industrial properties so that they may have some positive influence on surrounding property values, or at least so that they won’t negatively affect property values. To me, this means that future industrial properties will need to be constructed to be more aesthetically pleasing than industrial properties of the past. It seems like this may become more challenging as these properties are also projected to grow in size. To keep neighboring property values unaffected, I think industrial properties may need to include more greenspace on surrounding land or to provide amenities for nearby property owners. Those living in adjacent residential neighborhoods will be most likely to welcome these potential new neighbors if the distribution centers will in some way increase their property values or benefit their quality of life, apart from their ability to receive goods ordered online more quickly.

Another topic that piqued my interest came up during several different afternoon sessions at the conference. The focus was on expanding public transportation to help make cities more strongly connected and fluid—specifically, to expand public transportation so that it is easier for individuals to commute between home and work. There was an interesting graphic in one of the public transportation presentations that focused on comparing and contrasting levels of disposable income for families living in transportation-rich areas, families living in areas where an automobile is required to travel, and the national average. The charts showed that families in transportation-rich areas are likely to have nearly 20% more disposable income than the average American family and over 20% more disposable income than families who live in areas without multiple transportation options. The speakers noted that high-speed rail systems are expanding all over the nation, and one presentation even outlined three different plans for a new rail station in the Five-Points neighborhood of Atlanta that could potentially have dramatic impacts on the local economy and the types of properties that will be constructed in that area. Even the panel of four sitting mayors discussed how transportation is one of the key drivers of growth. This includes both the expansion and creation of new rail systems across the U.S. and also the significance of air transportation, particularly the influence of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on the City of Atlanta.

The most interesting topics to me were the ones that focused on how future changes that are likely to occur in other sectors of the economy will affect the real estate industry, but I really enjoyed all of the presentations and discussions. Overall, the Global Diversity Summit was a great event for networking, and I was glad to see some things that come up in my work here at Greenfield explored in other contexts.

– Abigail Mooney