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Times & Trends: Learning from Growth

Nov. 2, 2015
If you look behind the numbers in this year’s Market Planning Guide that highlight the nation’s fastest-growing metros, you can learn quite a bit about what makes this industry tick.

In preparation for the Market Planning Guide each year, Electrical Wholesaling’s editors unearth and analyze thousands of data points measuring local market growth. Our own custom sales forecasts. Three-month moving averages for employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Housing starts from the U.S. Department of Commerce. CMD and Dodge Data and Analytics information on construction projects. The U.S. Census of Wholesale Trade. And the ever-popular Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data for 300-plus Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that has delighted the data-geek side of me since I discovered it two years ago at www.bea.gov.

And while collecting all of this data may be noble endeavor, what’s really important for EW’s readers is that we use this data to paint a picture for them of what our electrical economy will look like in 2016 so they can factor it into their decisions on how to invest resources next year. That’s the guiding principle of the 2016 Market Planning Guide and why it’s proved so popular for close to 40 years, since Andrea Herbert, EW’s late chief editor, developed it in the late 1970s.

One of my favorite parts of this annual project is learning about which local markets are growing the fastest. This past year I got some real-world insight into the Market Planning Guide because I had the chance to travel for business and pleasure to some of the fastest-growing markets in the land, including New York; Boston; Ft. Myers, Fla.; Colorado’s Front Range; and San Francisco. These trips drove home the reality that it’s fine to sit at my desk in Overland Park, Kan., and surf the web for data on construction projects or design dozens of Excel spreadsheets populated by data on market growth, but you also need the real-world perspective you get by visiting the cities and towns where all the growth is happening. Walking through New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, with its dozens of vintage four-story brownstone walk-ups and corner taverns, taught me how much that area will change with the mega-billion dollar Hudson Yards project, and how resourceful Big Apple distributors will need to be to beat the traffic in the city’s traffic-choked streets to make deliveries to these construction sites. Running through Boston and seeing the new university construction, condo tower and new office towers gave me a good perspective on how much that city’s construction renaissance is changing its historic skyline and is offering the electrical industry new sales opportunities in the financial and biotech industries and in servicing universities. Catching a sunset along the beach at Ft. Myers, Fla., taught me why so many people are moving to Florida’s Gulf Coast and gave me a few moments to reflect on how the Sunshine State cycles from too-good-to-be true business in the good times to overbuilding and high vacancy rates on the downswing.

Visiting with the folks at Ft. Collins WinSupply and hearing about all of the growth along Colorado’s Front Range gave me a renewed understanding for why this beautiful state attracts so many new residents, and why  it suffers from the same boom-and-bust construction cycles as other destination states. I was also surpised to learn that warehouse space in the Denver market is tough to find because marijuana growers in this pot-friendly state are renting lots of it for their indoor plantations.

A morning run through San Francisco’s financial district gave me the chance to see hipsters wheeling along on blue Razor scooters during their morning commutes to jobs at new offices for tech companies. It also made me wonder how in the world they can afford the $3,800 monthly rents for miniscule studios in some of the new condo towers under construction that make San Francisco a Top 10 multi-family housing market.

These growth markets, and some of the others discussed in the 2016 Market Planning Guide, couldn’t be more different from each other, but they all have one thing in common. In good times and in bad, customers there still want the same service from electrical distributors — the right product at the right place and right time —  at a reasonable price.