The inflation we see first-hand is a result of pent-up demand not being met by supply, due to factors such as increased consumer spending and disrupted supply chains. The industrial leasing market for value-added production and warehousing in the Borderplex region (El Paso, Juarez, southern New Mexico) is a microcosm of this phenomenon. I recently got to attend a couple of briefings by Christian Perez Giese, Senior Vice President/Director of Industrial and Logistics at commercial real estate services company CBRE’s Borderplex branch, and picked up a lot of current information about industrial space in the Borderplex.
Speculative space, often referred to as “spec” space, is industrial space a developer constructs without necessarily having a contract with a tenant. The space is built on speculation that upon completion of the space, or shortly thereafter, the developer will recruit a tenant(s) to lease the space. Having spec space available allows developers and communities the ability to offer available product to companies needing to lease space in a relatively short period of time. In many cases, a company cannot wait the nine to twelve months it can take to construct new industrial space and deals are lost.
In Juarez, there is approximately 75 million square feet of industrial space, and active users are currently demanding another 3.6 million square feet. Juarez has been seeing companies from Asia setting up production operations to hedge their risk against supply chain disruptions, trade wars, and rising logistics costs. Major Taiwanese companies have established new operations in Juarez or expanded their existing operations. Approximately four million square feet was absorbed in Juarez in 2021, with another 800,000 square feet having been absorbed in the first quarter of 2022, the second highest absorption in a quarter on record.
Currently, the vacancy rate for Juarez industrial space is 0.7 percent, which is a historic low. More than 5.5 million square feet of industrial space is currently being constructed, three million of which is spec space. If all the spec space were available today, vacancy rates would only increase to 2.7 percent, which is still well below typical market equilibrium. This construction activity is a strong leading indicator for upcoming demand in El Paso, Texas and Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Historically, industrial lease rates have been similar on either side of the border in the Borderplex. However, Juarez has been underpriced for six to nine months, and lease rates are rapidly catching up to those on the other side of the border. Average asking lease rates in Juarez can now exceed $6.00 per square foot.
There is currently 63 million square feet of industrial space on the U.S. side of the Borderplex. More than four million square feet of space was absorbed in 2021. In the first quarter of 2022, another approximately one million square feet of industrial space was absorbed, which was a new record. According to CBRE, the vacancy rate in the El Paso region is currently 1.5 percent. Brokers believe that it could actually be as low as 0.5 percent, taking into account that some of the available space is functionally obsolete.
At present, there are 2.7 million square feet of spec space under construction, of which 1.5 million square feet is to be delivered in 2022. Of the total new spec space, 983,000 square feet is already leased or has a letter of intent in place. At present, 2.8 million square feet of space is being demanded by active users. Warehousing accounts for the majority of this demand. Transportation, logistics, and third-party logistics firms account for more than 80 percent of recent leasing activity. In Santa Teresa, New Mexico, and San Jeronimo, Chihuahua (immediately across the border from each other), more than 2.1 million square feet of space is under construction, of which 635,000 square feet is spec space. Lease rates for select spaces can now exceed $7.00 per square foot.
It could take a couple of years for the supply of spec space to catch up with the demand to return to what would be considered a normal market vacancy rate. If current market trends continue, the Borderplex region could face another 30 percent increase in rental rates by 2025. According to Perez Giese, “A lot of land is being sold to new developers entering the market, so new space will be built. The demand for industrial-use land has driven prices to all-time highs in east El Paso. However, the Borderplex still has some of the best industrial land in the West, with prices well below other competitive markets.” The development boom is pushing growth east to Horizon City (far east El Paso) and west to Santa Teresa in New Mexico.
“In spite of land and rent price increases, the cost of living and operating industrial buildings in the Borderplex are still comparatively low, which works to its advantage. In the future, we should see more manufacturing coming into the region that is not necessarily related to Mexico,” states Perez Giese.
One frustrating challenge is that certain building materials needed to complete industrial buildings, such as electrical components and roofing materials, can have a lead time of several months, which severely delays projects. I have a friend in the construction industry who is trying to deliver a building to a client. However, he has been waiting months for electrical components and a transformer box to complete the project. Demand for industrial space is intensely strong, but the time it takes to deliver a building can be extended due to lack of components and supplies.
In Juarez, buying industrial land is relatively easy however, finding land with power or that can be connected to power can be difficult. According to Christian Perez Giese, Senior Vice President/Director of Industrial and Logistics at commercial real estate services company CBRE’s Borderplex branch, “Building a substation there used to take six months, but now can take three to four years. Power in Juarez could become a limiting factor in three to five years.” This comes at a time where many companies are bringing their production and logistics operations to North America.
The rapid development of industry at the border is also revealing challenges at the international ports of entry. At the two El Paso commercial ports of entry, it is not unusual for northbound trucks to wait in line to cross into the U.S. for as long as three to six hours. These delays, along with aging port infrastructure, cause disruptions in supply chains, which result in costs going up. The Santa Teresa, New Mexico Port of Entry has been able to maintain fast northbound crossing times, typically crossing trucks in under 30 minutes. Within the Borderplex this port is becoming perceived more and more as a reliever route for northbound commercial traffic in the region.
According to Giese, “Trucking rates tripled last year, but are only predicted to be double pre-pandemic rates this year. These costs are almost always passed on to consumers, thus increasing inflation.” Longer wait times to cross the ports mean that more diesel has to be consumed. At well over $5.00 per gallon, the rising cost of this fuel is a major factor in the rise of logistics costs.
The Borderplex continues to be challenged by a perception that it is a dangerous and unsafe. I have had many business owners and site-selection consultants ask me if I feel safe living in this region. Much of the concern is a holdover of the violence in Mexico that hit cities like Juarez hard over the last 15 years, and was covered extensively in the media. While violence in Juarez remains due to cartels jockeying to maintain drug and contraband routes into the U.S., this violence generally does not affect the foreign-owned production plants operating in that city. I find myself having to explain to people that El Paso and southern New Mexico are some of the safest places in the world when it comes to violent crimes.
In spite of these challenges, the future looks bright for industrial growth in the Borderplex. According to Giese, “People visiting the Borderplex for the first time always seem to be surprised at how big it is (approximately 2.5 million in population).” Because of growth, better connections to other cities are badly needed at the El Paso International Airport. Site-selection consultants, business representatives, and investors all take into account the ease of traveling to a potential site for a production project.
According to Giese, “Trends in growth and challenges have occurred quickly and the industrial leasing market in the Borderplex was unaware of how quickly these trends impacted the market. For the first time in twenty years, the Borderplex is operating lock-step with drivers in the greater U.S. market. It is no longer an outlier.” So even though there are challenges affecting growth, the Borderplex promises to remain a major economic development opportunity for New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua.