During the pandemic when the economy was otherwise shedding jobs, San Bernardino County helped the Inland Empire region exceed 100,000 new jobs, which equated to more than 5% of all jobs added nationally during that time. It's the type of economic durability that has led the Golden State's largest county by size and the nation's 14th-most populous county to add a projected 400,000 more residents in the next 20 to 25 years. For retailers, this growth equals opportunity.

"It's a big, fast, expanding economy with the population growth and resulting consumer demand that retailers and investors are looking for to succeed and thrive," said Derek Armstrong, director of the San Bernardino County Economic Development Department. And as these new residents settle down, they're bringing an economic vitality and encouraging the expansion of new concepts that are hard to match elsewhere in the state, says Armstrong.

Southern California's "In" Thing

The trend of in-migration to San Bernardino County continues as people living in coastal areas seek more affordable living. Cities across the County are benefiting from the population shift. 

Citing a recent Smart Asset study, Armstrong noted that Victorville has grown 11% and 12% over the last five years in housing units and business stock, respectively. He reports that the city welcomed 200 new commercial businesses in 2022, 69 of which are retail. In the first quarter of 2023, Victorville received 13 applications for commercial businesses.

Derek Armstrong, director of the San Bernardino County Economic Development Department

Upland has seized the growth opportunity to revitalize its historic downtown commercial district through proactive programs focused on business attraction and assistance and adaptive reuse, and façade improvements. "It's been able to lure first-time business owners and also regional entrepreneurs to that area," Armstrong said and resulted in a new micro-brewery and 10 different restaurants set to open in the coming months. In addition, Upland is enhancing the Downtown public realm through grant funding to create two urban spaces for residents and patrons to enjoy the Downtown vibe.  

New Concepts Have an Environment to Flourish

More people with more to spend is straight from the retail playbook. Retailers are taking notice and making their own inroads, including national big-box companies, Hispanic grocers, and fitness brands, such as EOS Fitness, Chuze Fitness and LA Fitness.

"We're starting to see new concepts coming to the county from the coast and out of state to seize these new opportunities," said Armstrong, mentioning Target setting its sights on Ontario, and Vallarta Supermarkets expanding within the county. "We're also seeing a lot of post-COVID increase interest in gyms and some soft goods pop up as well."

Growing retail demand in San Bernardino County has led to decreasing vacancy rates. Not surprisingly, property owners in the market are expanding to reap greater retail rewards. Armstrong reported that Foothill Marketplace in Rancho Cucamonga, Vineyard Freeway Center in Ontario, and Sierra Lakes Marketplace in Fontana — one of the fastest growing areas in the Inland Empire, according to the economic development director — all added at least 15,000 square feet of space after positive net absorption totaling 100,000 square feet. 

"Overall, we're seeing extremely low vacancy rates and increased demand that are creating opportunities for retailers to really look at San Bernardino County as an opportunity to make investments and provide services for our residents," he said.


© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

Brian A. Lee

Brian A. Lee is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and former editor of Western Real Estate Business magazine. The Wake Forest and University of Georgia graduate has covered commercial real estate since 2000.