Why history matters: Understanding CRE market trends and predicting the future

Why history matters: Understanding CRE market trends and predicting the future

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I have worked in the construction, development, land and real estate business for over 40 years. In that time, the commercial real estate business has witnessed the highs and lows of the economy and had a front row seat to growth, trends and market challenges that we have confronted. One must not look far to understand that the economic lows, while they are a challenge, that often result in vibrant recovery as well.

Our organization was founded in 1935 during the middle of America’s Great Depression which ran from 1929-1939. In fact, a real estate boom had occurred in the 1920’s prior to the stock market crash of 1929 – followed by many years of challenge. Our founder, George Henkle, as a young man, saw an opportunity to help out the farming community and began a business as a farm brokerage.

The land that comprises Butler and Warren Counties was farmland and Henkle understood that by working with farmers, an opportunity could be fostered for all. His early transactions included the land upon which King’s Island now sits. Henkle ultimately had an early vision that Cincinnati and Dayton would become one large combined market – which he termed a “Super City”.

At this time, the area was farmland and the Cincinnati “suburbs” were generally south of Norwood.

Fast forward to today, and his vision is nearing reality.

By understanding the dynamics of market downturns, our business can forecast and adapt our vision and plan for the future. This requires an understanding of the history as well as an optimistic view of the future. This requires planning, perseverance and committed work teams.

Most businesses continue to endeavor for the long haul. While many would like the “get-rich-quick approach,” I like to say that we are in the “get rich slow” business. While the former is most appealing, the latter is the more realistic.

The dot.com boom (and bust) and the more recent start up boom, likely instructs us that most individuals and business organizations do not partake in the “get-rich-quick.” They must accept that success demands hard work, long hours and focus are what makes for solid business planning.

It is critical to focus upon lifestyle trends as well as generational activity. 2018 and the years ahead are very much about the impact that the baby boomer generation has on the overall economy. As this generation ages, they look to where they will live and retire. Both of which heartily impact the development business.

The millennials and generations preceding them have their own ideas about their lifestyles which includes where they will work in proximity to where they live. This impacts transportation, location of their homes (and are these apartments or houses?) and how they spend their leisure time. It also includes wellness, overall individual health, how they consume (on-line versus malls) and what they do for leisure.

And the business that I run has rapidly led the way in development of the industries that support both the lives of the baby boomers and more recent generations. It is up to us to have a vision and to know where American lives are headed. Much as our founder, George Henkle did.

The 35-mile region he addressed as a “super city” in the 1970s is rapidly approaching reality. The area’s cities have expanded their borders to include shopping centers, dining options, hospitals, entertainment centers with apartments near-by, and growing residential communities.


As we move through 2018, I am often asked, “What is next and what does the longer term future hold?” We stay heavily involved with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and their research (published in late 2017, Patrick Sisson, www.curbed.com) reviews generationally what cohorts will likely require in their home and work places. It is key that our industry remain flexible.

From where I sit, we rely on the masters at places such as ULI and on our own expertise. While none of us read tea leaves, those of us who have “gone the distance” have a good sense of what is next. We know for sure that our developments in the future will continue to be about providing a lifestyle experience that includes green space, clean bodies of water to enjoy leisure activities, viable health care organizations and living arrangements that span generations.

We also know that owning land in the most desirable areas will continue to give organizations such as ours, the competitive edge. Our focus will continue to be on what we have learned from history, the forever changing marketplace, combined with sound judgement and vision.

This article was featured on the Cincinnati Business Courier website.

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