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MIAMI-The South Florida commercial real estate industry appears well positioned to weather the current downturn in the US economy, thanks in large part to the region’s increasing prominence as a global trade center.

Although exhibiting some signs of softness, key office and industrial market indicators show the region is nowhere near the dismal state that defined the South Florida region in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the commercial real estate industry almost came to a virtual stop.

“The Latin American economies drive the South Florida commercial real estate market,” Ford Gibson, president and chief operating officer of Miami-based Codina Group Inc., tells GlobeSt.com. “If you look at our region, the economy is far more dependent on what happens overseas than what happens in the US.” Newly released market reports support Gibson’s contention.

Industrial-warehouse vacancy rates in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties appear to be stabilizing, according to a second-quarter market survey by Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc.. The survey shows a noticeable increase in office vacancies in Broward and Miami-Dade, but nowhere near the levels that characterized the region during the recession of a decade ago.

It is estimated that about two-thirds of the Florida’s $69 billion trade industry is shipped through South Florida. U.S Census Bureau statistics published by the Massachusetts Institute for Social and Economic Research show that Florida exports are up 11.28% through April this year.

In a recently released ratings report, Moody’s Investors Service attributed global trade as an increasingly important factor in the current economic health of the Miami-Dade market. The South Florida market also benefits from a diversification that is taking place among the state’s key trading partners. Brazil, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Colombia, for instance, are Florida’s top five export markets.

“Another reason that Florida has done so well is because it has a diverse set of trading partners,” trade economist Sharmila Vishwasrao, an assistant professor of economics at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, tells GlobeSt.com. “That insulates Florida from economic downtowns in the Latin American countries. Brazil, Argentina and Chile, for example, have made significant strides in opening their markets. That simply means there are other alternatives.”

That diversification has an impact on everything from companies needing warehouse space to store goods earmarked for import or export, office space to support those deliveries and even residential products to house executives and workers who run those businesses, Gibson says.

“One fact that distinguishes Miami from other international cities with a Latin influence, like Los Angeles or Houston, is its historic Latin links,” Gibson says. “Latin American executives tell me that Miami is probably the one true Latin city in all of the US.”

Those influences are having a positive impact on Codina Group, one of the largest full-service real estate firms in Florida, Gibson says. The company’s brokerage, management and development operations all are producing strong results.

“I expected to see a true fallout through our C&S Development division, which does nothing but build-to-suit projects in the range of 30,000 to 60,000 sf and is almost exclusively driven by small entrepreneurs that are linked to Latin America,” Gibson says. “We’re making are budget and may exceed it.”

Convinced of the region’s relative economic health, Gibson senses the South Florida commercial real estate market is poised for an even healthier rebound once the US markets regain steam.

“There is enough strength in the market,” Gibson says. “We’ve seen that in the backfilling of some of our space. From a real estate perspective, we’re even having a hard time getting ahead of ourselves.”

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