Up Close With NAIOP New Jersey's George Sowa
Media Contact: Evelyn Weiss Francisco (201) 796-7788
The past two years have been marked by continuing economic uncertainty, important legislative activity relating to the economy and real estate-and continued growth by NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate development association. George Sowa of Brandywine Realty Trust served as chapter president for 2011 and 2012, and as he prepares to turn over the reins reflects on the past two years:
Q: What were your goals at the beginning of your term and what have been the results?
A: An important goal was to increase the NAIOP brand, internally and externally, and I believe we have succeeded. The problem of slow job growth has not gone away, and the message is that our industry and its relationship to the economy and helping solve the problem is very important. We continue to provide an excellent supply of properties. However, we need to collectively continue to favorably position New Jersey for existing and prospective companies to improve the demand for properties, which is primarily driven by job growth.
Another goal was to continue to grow our membership, and with our tremendous staff and dedicated volunteer base, that has happened. At the beginning of my term we had approximately 530 members and were the 10th largest NAIOP chapter. Now, we have more than 600 members and rank number seven in the national organization. That growth speaks volumes in terms of where the economy has been and where our industry is going-the value of membership is clearly understood.
Q: NAIOP NJ has been an active public policy advocate-what have been some of the recent successes?
A: The Permit Extension Act-the second time it has been extended with our support-was key. Other successes include Plan Release with Conditions, under which architects and engineers prepare plans, submit them to the community and get reviewed plans back with conditions. It increases landlords' ability to deliver commercial space on time and with certainty. Also, the Time of Application Law provides that development regulations in effect on the date of submitting an application will govern review of that application throughout the process.
One effort that was a nexus between the legislature and the business community is fast-tracking the raising of the Bayonne Bridge by the fall of 2015 to allow the new generation of Post-Panamax vessels to enter our ports. Without it, we would lose jobs and business to other ports-if a shipper gets comfortable in a competing port, we're not going to get them back. Getting that done clearly signaled that we won't let that happen.
Q: What key issues remain on the agenda?
A: We have to continue to find a solution on COAH that works for all sides-our industry absolutely agrees we need to make housing more affordable. But affordable housing should not be funded by fees imposed on new commercial development-that doesn't work. In general, it's critical that when a new law is passed, there must be a corresponding, consistent funding source associated with it.
It's also critical for everyone to understand we're not the "enemy." We complement much of what's happening in New Jersey, but at times, on certain issues, it feels as though there's a "winner" and a "loser." Certainly, that's not the intent of our industry and organization. Our goal is to work with legislators to make sure laws are passed that serve the state as well as our industry-and ultimately create jobs.
Q: What have been some key achievements within the chapter itself?
A: We were the first commercial real estate organization in New Jersey to provide the Continuing Education Units (CEUs) now required for real estate professionals to be licensed. To date, more than 400 people have actually earned CEUs from attending our timely and topical events. This has resulted in membership growth. We have also expanded leadership and knowledge through our Developing Leaders program and working with university students.
Indeed, NAIOP NJ members have access to education and information on what is happening within the industry and the public policy arena. One of the major benefits of an organization like NAIOP is that it's so focused on a particular industry-our meetings, our programs are exclusively geared toward commercial real estate.
Q: Michael Seeve of Mountain Development Corp. will shortly succeed you as chapter president-what are some of the challenges he faces?
A: The overriding issue is to make sure that NAIOP is viewed as a sound resource for policy makers, the media, the public and our members. We want to be viewed as the solution to the challenges facing our industry and our state. We have made inroads in delivering that message, but there is still more work to be done.