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All signs point to strong economic growth for Hampton Roads this year

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By Debra Ramey

Hampton Roads’ economic future is looking bright for 2017. One sign of this is the area’s tremendous retail growth along with the influx of new retail product that is predicted to continue. The new Norfolk Premium Outlets, more store announcements by Ikea and Wegmans as well as Aldi and Lidl both racing to open as many stores as possible, are just a few of the signs of a growing economy.

But why are new retailers coming to Hampton Roads, a market historically known for its fast food outlets and discount retailers? It’s because we’re experiencing a rapidly improving demographic.

Unique and new to the area retailers, sit-down and quick-serve restaurants of all cuisines, craft breweries as well as entertainment facilities are now taking chances – and succeeding – on this emerging consumer.

Developers are also taking advantage of a market that has experienced an influx of consumers with disposable income. Pent-up demand along with increased consumer spending potential have driven – and will continue to drive – new retail development. In addition, the tremendous growth of multi-family product in the market will continue to fuel a fierce and competitive grocery war.

The grocery expansion combined with expected big box vacancies by the likes of Kmart and Macy’s will provide innovative and creative redevelopment and revitalization opportunities. Some increase in the vacancy rate will undoubtedly occur in the more seasoned centers as new development continues, but in the long-term, the added retail product will serve the market well.

More than $300 million in retail renovations are under way as well as several new Kroger stores that will, over time, increase demand for superior residential products.

Job growth is the most important element to retail growth. With 7,000 jobs expected to be added to the health care sector as well as those that will be needed if NASA’s $95.6 million laboratory is built, retail will surely benefit. The Nuclear Science Advisory Committee recently announced its unanimous approval to move forward with a billion-dollar, high-energy electron-ion collider to explore new frontiers in physics research. Newport News is one of two finalists waiting for a decision.

Do the new Amtrak station slated for a 2018 completion and the new interchanges and road improvements expected also capture the attention of expanding retailers? Yes, but. While those infrastructure commitments are making our market more attractive, the election results and the potential influx in military spending are even greater influences – particularly should the NASA research facility become a reality. It all equals more growth for Hampton Roads.

Finally, we must not forget the investment and dedication by the cities and community districts to re-focus on their downtown markets. The redevelopment of Waterside in Norfolk, the revitalization of Yorktown’s waterfront along with investment in several Central Business Districts are just a few initiatives fueling the economic surge for Hampton Roads.

Indeed, 2017 is sure to bring new activity to Hampton Roads as a result of developer, retailer and, subsequently, community investment. The entry of the new will also have a positive effect on the locally-owned and locally-operated older centers that need upgrades.

Debra Ramey, a lifelong Hampton Roads resident, opened the Virginia office of The Shopping Center Group in 1990 and has more than four decades of experience in commercial real estate. She has served as Virginia director for the International Council of Shopping Centers and has her CSM and CMD designations.


Original article appeared here.

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