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ONTARIO, CA-Profitability and proactivity were two resounding themes throughout the Inland Empire’s first RealShare Conference held yesterday at the Ontario Convention Center. While other markets experience a slowdown, panelists explained to a nearly 400-person audience how the Inland Empire is still raking in the money.

The discussion began with keynote speaker and Southern California economist Dr. John Husing who defined the region’s real estate market quite well by cautioning brokers, “If you can’t make money in this market, go get a job.”

According to Husing, the Inland Empire’s thriving market is simple to explain. “This is about dirt,” he noted, referring to the region’s available land. “We have it, Southern California is running out of it, so you see a migration of projects into this region.”

This available and affordable “dirt” has lured nearly two million new residents to the Inland Empire since 2000, a number that economists did not predict would be reached until 2020.

“People are moving because of housing,” Husing said. “As a result, in the first six months [of 2006] 54% of new homes sold from the Mexican border to Ventura were in either Riverside or San Bernardino counties.”

Once significant segments of the population migrated, the jobs, shopping, entertainment and education soon followed. What was created, according to the Town Hall Meeting titled, “The State of the Inland Empire Market,” was a region ripe for more office and retail properties, particularly those at the higher end.

“There is a continued migration of white collar workers on a consistent basis,” said panelist Paul Hiller, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership. “The level and type of housing will become very important…as [white collar workers] are continuing to come from coastal communities, as are the jobs themselves.”

The great migration of jobs and workers already has certain Inland Empire cities at their capacity. Many Town Hall panelists agreed that “population pressure” has caused eyes to shift from built-out cities such as Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and Chino/Chino Hills, to out-skirted cities such as Barstow, Yucca Valley, Coachella and Hemet.

The Town Hall also addressed Southern California’s economic state and how conditions have affected the market. “In the past two years, interest rates have moved 17 times and slowed down the real estate market,” said Kevin Assef, Marcus and Millichap’s managing director.

Town Hall Panelists forecasted that land values will level off, construction costs will increase moderately, strong positive absorption will continue in industrial office products and that the Inland Empire’s infrastructure cannot keep up with economic growth and development as it sits now.

Conrad Guzkowksi, the City of Riverside’s assistant development director, believed infrastructure problems could be relieved by communication and partnerships. “We’re very into improving our infrastructure and we’re spending significant amounts of money to [do it] and that requires strategic partnerships, both public and private,” he said. “We have to be hugely proactive…and try to position ourselves to respond to every opportunity development opportunity.”

Infrastructure was also a hot topic of “The Global Gateways: The Intersection of Logistics, Transportation and Real Estate” panel. Joseph Brady, president of the Bradco Cos., spoke of the challenges of transporting cargo, as evidenced by the difficulties trucks have making it up the popular yet dangerous section of the I-15 known as the Cajon Pass.

Fellow panelist Paul Engstrom, of the California Department of Transportation, knew the challenge’s solution. “We must invest in freeways and infrastructures,” he asserted before adding, “But that [available funding] doesn’t go very far.”

Produced by Real Estate Media, publisher of Real Estate Forum, Real Estate Southern California and GlobeSt.com, the conference featured officials from the County of San Bernardino and the City of Ontario. Other highlights included a “Tenant-in-Common Investment Update;” “Debt and Equity Update: How to Finance and Get Deals Done in a Heated Market;” “Forecasting Office Market Growth” and “Retail Market Forecast: Creating Ringside Seats for Returns.”

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