Real Estate Huddle in Birmingham

Commercial real estate specialists gather to brainstorm next month.

ABOVE Construction is in progress at My House on the 50 in Tuscaloosa, billed as high-end off-campus housing for students. Photos by Cary Norton

Navigating in the New Age of Real Estate is the theme of the 18th Annual Alabama Commercial Real Estate Conference, nicknamed ACREcom, slated for February 9 at The Club in Birmingham.

ACREcom is hosted annually by the Alabama Center for Real Estate (ACRE), part of the Culverhouse College of Commerce at the University of Alabama. KC Conway, ACRE’s new director of research and corporate engagement, helped shape the conference theme and will serve as master of ceremonies, as well as leading several workshop and panel sessions. “We are thrilled to have a top-notch presenter and subject matter expert like KC on our team and believe he’s going to help take ACREcom to a new level this year, ” says Grayson Glaze, executive director of ACRE.

The navigational theme was chosen for ACREcom in part because Alabama has the potential to become a major shipping and intermodal transportation center, Conway says. The conference will also provide proactive real estate professionals the tools to better navigate the rapidly changing economy. “A lot is being said about disruption these days, but with the navigation theme we wanted to emphasize looking at ways to operate in and take advantage of the changing economy, ” Conway says.

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Other ACREcom presenters will include Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority; Chris Lee, author, president and CEO of CEL & Associates; Stephen McNair, PhD, of McNair Historic Preservation in Mobile; Kathy Deck, director of community and economic research partnerships at UA’s Culverhouse, and David Skinner, an attorney and Culverhouse instructor.


ABOVE Jim Newsome, Chris Lee, Stephen McNair, Kathy Deck and David Skinner

ACREcom speakers and panel members will discuss topics including how supply-chain trends are affecting commercial real estate, the changing face of real estate firms, making the most of real estate opportunities such as historic tax credit programs, avoiding legal landmines and the impact of tax changes.

Conway, who before joining ACRE served as chief economist for Colliers International and as senior vice president of credit risk management for SunTrust, was recently named CCIM Institute chief economist. CCIM develops and designates commercial investment real estate experts.

Conway is highly regarded for his accurate forecasting and thought leadership and has often briefed the Federal Reserve on issues, says Glaze. Conway’s special areas of expertise are valuation, ports and logistics, housing economics, agricultural land, aging-services housing, bank regulation and real estate finance.

A nationally recognized speaker, Conway has addressed more than 750 industry, regulatory and academic organizations in the last decade. “Alabama is thriving economically and has the opportunity to become an even bigger player in the region, ” Conway says. “It’s great to be able to play a role in the further economic development of the state.”

Conway has worked in the ports and logistics arena in association with ACREcom keynote speaker Newsome and believes Newsome has some important insights to share with Alabama business leaders. “Jim has helped transform South Carolina’s economy with the expansion of the port system in that state, ” Conway says. “A decade ago, South Carolina’s system wasn’t too different than Alabama’s today. We have a lot of potential in this state.”

The South Carolina Ports Authority has port facilities in Charleston, Georgetown and Greer that handle international commerce valued at more than $63 billion each year. Considered a major economic development engine for South Carolina, one in 11 jobs in the state is generated by the port and those jobs pay 40 percent higher than the state’s average wage, Newsome says. “States with ports can achieve faster economic growth than others due to the strong economic development and recruiting tool that a port represents, ” he says. “A port that works well is a strategic asset that enhances a state’s competitiveness for major investments of manufacturing and other businesses with international supply chains, and global businesses often choose to locate near ports.”

But developing a major port system typically requires significant state funding, as well as federal and local support. The State of South Carolina, for example, in 2012 set aside $300 million for helping deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet after the port faced federal funding challenges. Now the state is investing in a dedicated access road from Interstate 26 to the port’s new container terminal and a potential new dual-served intermodal rail facility. “Ultimately, ports require big investments but the long-term benefits they bring to a state cannot be underestimated, ” Newsome says.

Newsome’s keynote presentation will tie in with other presenters including Culverhouse College economist and research specialist Deck, who will discuss the changing face of commercial real estate and supply chains, including the emergence of greater demand for warehouse facilities. More warehouses are needed to support shipping, as well as other transportation modes. “People still love to go shopping at retail centers but with the increase in online purchases and consumer desire to get products as fast as possible, retailers are looking for warehouse space located closer to their buyers, ” Deck says.

ABOVE KC Conway, director of research and corporate engagement at ACRE, will emcee and speak at the the February conference, which aims to help real estate professionals prosper even in a changing economy.

Inland port centers with warehouses created to house products shipped into seaports like Charleston or Mobile are needed to better support ports, Conway points out.  “You want to locate warehouses away from your valuable historic districts and spread economic growth throughout the state, ” Conway says. “They represent a significant opportunity for investment.”

Lee, Los Angeles-based real estate consultant and author of “Transformational Leadership in the New Age of Real Estate, ” will discuss the changing face of the real estate industry and trends such as Google rapidly becoming the No. 1 source of real estate data. “The blending of new, emerging and disruptive technology into the real estate industry is creating both challenges and opportunities for those willing to embrace and invest in change and transformation, ” he says.

Real estate firms are in a period of rapid change, Lee says. For example, 55 percent of senior real estate executives say they will retire within 10 years, 30 percent of existing real estate firms are likely to be defunct by 2025 and 70 percent of real estate firms are hiring. “Thirty two percent of real estate leaders, in a recent CEL & Associates Inc. survey, indicated if their CEO suddenly died, their company would likely wind down, ” Lee says. “The average workspace is occupied only 55 percent of the time during the workweek, and around 30 percent for the entire week.”

For registration and more information on ACREcom, visit

Kathy Hagood and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood and he in Birmingham.

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