by Art Levy
Polk County’s industrial sector accounts for nearly 80 million square feet of warehouse space, says Gary M. Ralston, managing director of SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate in Lakeland.
Ralston says the demand for that space — with less than 5% vacancy — should remain strong, thanks to the county’s location between the Orlando and Tampa Bay markets, as well as Polk’s proximity to I-4 and overall growth. Polk’s population, for example, increased 20% from 2010 to 2020, and the research firm Esri forecasts the 725,046 population will grow 15% faster than Florida’s overall growth over the next five years.
“Industrial and warehouse real estate in proximity to I-4 has enjoyed very strong demand,” Ralston says. “There are almost 22 million people within five hours of Lakeland and I-4. This is the strongest distribution metric in the state. Polk has three times as many employees in transportation and warehousing as the national average.”
Meanwhile, demand for Polk’s 14 million square feet of office space is still recovering from the pandemic.
“We are continuing to see negative absorption and negative rent growth,” he says. “There are several large office users who converted to work-from-home due to COVID and are still struggling to implement a return to office. We believe that perhaps 20% to 25% of office workers will not return to the office and will continue to work remotely. This is especially true of call centers. Over time, we expect that the effect on office demand will result in shorter-term leases and more space that has a somewhat co-working environment.”