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MIAMI-International trade continues to have an impact on the local industrial market, but landlords and developers can only grow that business as much as politics will allow, said speakers at a local event last week. The discussion was hosted by the Commercial Industrial Association of South Florida and featured local radio host Neal Asbury.

Asbury advocates depoliticizing US trade policy and leveling the playing field for imports from all countries, similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement. He views the issue as a national one, even though Miami-Dade County is considered a global gateway to Florida and the rest of the country.

“South Florida still has a very viable and active trade market,” Eric Swanson, executive vice president with Coral Gables-based Flagler Development Group and one of the CIASF discussion participants, told GlobeSt.com after Friday’s event. He points out that other transportation modes will need to be considered as oil prices rise again, including making Miami International Airport more efficient at handling freight.

Changes to international trade policy will affect the location of distribution and warehouse buildings, Swanson says. He notes that Flagler Station, at US 27 and Florida’s Turnpike, has been particularly successful because of its easy highway access as well as its proximity to both Port Everglades and the Port of Miami.

A decrease in international trade is causing a likewise drop in industrial space needs for importers and exporters in Miami, according to Marcus & Millichap. The local overall vacancy rate is just under 10% and could rise to 12% by the end of this year, partially because of recession-related business closures in which tenants lease less than 20,000 square feet each.

Land constraints and the market’s stature as a Latin American trade hub will sustain investor interest in industrial properties over the long term, though lingering uncertainty over property values will suppress investment activity. Although few deals have been completed so far this year, Marcus & Millichap states that their value has remained above $100 per square foot because of the higher quality of properties being traded.

“With the current downturn in fundamentals, it is doubtful that prices are still rising,” says Kirk Felici, regional manager with Marcus & Millichap in Miami. He adds that divergent expectations between buyers and sellers are continuing to hinder deal flow, but the gap may narrow as vacancy increases and rents decline from their current levels, above $6 per square foot.

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