Within a year, Ventura County could well be enjoying its first upsurge of industrial and office building construction since the 1980s, according to two close observers of the county's real estate market.
The expected comeback promises to create hundreds of construction jobs and, even more importantly, to provide the factories and offices needed by an expanding economy.
The predictions are based in part on the recent relocation to the county of companies whose plants were damaged in the Northridge earthquake.
These moves, by units of such firms as Packard Bell Electronics and NMB Technology, absorbed more than 500,000 square feet of vacant industrial space.
But, noted Bram White, executive vice president and manager of Daum Commercial Real Estate Services in Camarillo, that represents less than half the industrial property that's been leased or rented in Ventura County since November.
Most of the interest being expressed in the county's industrial and office property is from firms wanting to escape such urban problems as crime, traffic and pollution, White noted. Such companies account for the bulk of the more than 1.4 million square feet of space occupied in the past five months, he said.
In addition, some concerns, such as GTE California and Weyerhaeuser, are longtime Ventura County employers who are expanding their presence in the county.
"Large industrial space, particularly in the east county, has become extremely scarce," White said. "This not only is causing upward pressure on rents, it also should lead to build-to-suit deals, in which developers get financing by signing up a building's purchaser or tenants in advance."
There's even talk in Ventura County's commercial real estate industry that speculative building may be on its way back, White added. "I've heard that at least two banks are considering making loans on such projects for the first time in three years."
Tony Principe, senior vice president of Westcord/Westoak, a Westlake Village brokerage, said the same pressures--increased demand and reduced supply--are being felt in the county's office market.
"The next big market in Ventura County will be land for office buildings," he said. "I think a speculative project would definitely work today, provided a developer is able to secure financing."
In the Conejo Valley communities of Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Newbury Park, Principe added, "an office tenant looking for 25,000 square feet of space has only two or three choices today." Demand for retail space in the east county also is strengthening, he reported.
The market for industrial and commercial property is heating up so rapidly, in fact, that some developers would probably like to break ground on new projects within a few months, White said. "With a large project, though, it would practically be a miracle if you could get all your permits processed in less than nine months."