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ORANGE COUNTY-Orange County’s industrial market has held onto much of the momentum of earlier periods in the first part of this year, in contrast to the county’s office market, which is reeling under the burden of loads of space vacated by mortage-related businesses. Reports from Cushman & Wakefield, Voit Commercial Brokerage and CB Richard Ellis show an industrial market where vacancy edged up slightly in the first quarter but remains quite low, and rental rates are holding on.

As Cushman & Wakefield puts it in that company’s first-quarter report, “In contrast to the office market, the overall fundamentals of the industrial market such as occupancy and rental rate growth held up extremely well at the start of the year.” Cushman & Wakefield notes that occupancy stayed below 4% despite a slight increase in the quarter, while Voit cites a vacancy of 4.42%, up from 3.78%. CBRE pegs the vacancy at just under 3% in the county’s 246 million sf of industrial space.

Differences in the way that brokerages track space account for the varied vacancy figures, but all of them obviously show a market that has relatively little empty space. Voit sees lease rates up a penny to 76 cents per sf per month triple net on a year-to-year basis, and CBRE pegs the rate at 78 cents, up a nickel from a year ago. Despite the overall strength of the market, Voit sees the possibility of some “downard pressure on lease rates” in at least part of the county, the North, where total availability checked in at a rate of 6.26%, compared with 5.04% a year ago. The North County accounts for about 42% of the Orange County space.

Voit and CBRE both registered a lower level of overall activity in the first quarter. Voit tracked it at 2.3 million sf for the quarter, down 22.54% from the same quarter last year, and calls this drop in activity “a direct result of the tightening of credit and the general slowdown of the US economic environment.” CBRE observes that, “Following a county-wide decrease in the fourth quarter, total gross activity was slightly below 2.6 million sf in the first quarter.”

Despite these few bumps in the industrial road, all three of the brokerages see a solid future for the county’s industrial market, with strong demand and limited land available for developing new space. Total space under construction was 452,506 sf in the first quarter, according to Voit, which comments that, “The shrinking availability of land is only allowing for the development of primarily small, for-sale industrial buildings. This lack of available land, coupled with the high land prices and rising construction costs, has led to few mid-size buildings and distribution centers being developed in this infill market.”

CBRE’s report suggests that although the overall economic outlook for 2008 expects a downturn, “Orange County’s available supply of industrial property remains tight, with long-term expectations of favorable growth.” Ultimately, it concludes, “The laws of supply and demand coupled with geography will remain the most determining factors in the strength of the Orange County industrial market.

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