In the uncharted territory of 2020, organizations are exploring new ways to host events that typically draw a large audience. The 12th annual Thurston County Real Estate Forum is a case in point. This year’s gathering will be virtual, allowing for greater access from participation from outside of Thurston County. “I’m excited about the opportunity to reach a broader audience,” says Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC) Executive Director Michael Cade. “People don’t have to drive anywhere. You can participate wherever you are.”
The EDC is hosting the event on October 21. It will run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and will feature a keynote speaker and breakout sessions focused on three main themes: the impact of COVID-19 on the residential and commercial real estate market; partnerships related to real estate and economic development; and the changing nature of communities within Thurston County and what that means for developers.
According to Heather Burgess, an attorney specializing in real estate law at Phillips Burgess PLLC, the virtual event will offer the same level of benefit as its live counterpart. “This forum provides an opportunity to showcase real estate opportunities in Thurston County to a wide audience,” she notes, “including developers who might be interested in designing projects here. We can potentially reach even more of them by doing this virtually.”
Windermere Real Estate’s Chief Economist Matthew Gardner will be the keynote speaker and his talk will focus specifically on the impact of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown on the South Sound Region, with an emphasis on how the residential and commercial real estate industries are performing in the current marketplace.
Breakout sessions will include industry and community leaders, investors, decision makers, property owners, government representatives, engineers, contractors, site selectors and business owners. Cade believes the virtual format will encourage greater levels of engagement. “It’s going to be much more accessible for dialogue and interaction,” he says. “Participants will be able to go in and out of breakout session and connect with each other. They can do some networking with sponsors and key decision makers. This event is really about those opportunities and connections.”
Thurston County remains one of the fastest growing regions, not only in Washington State but in the nation. This event, with its targeted regional focus, helps attendees gain a better understanding of what that means for their respective industries. “The biggest benefit is to have a captive audience that is specifically interested in commercial real estate,” says Evan Parker, an industrial broker with Kidder Mathews of Olympia. “Thurston County has been recognized as an emerging market with plenty of unique opportunities not found in the larger cities. This type of program allows us to showcase ‘Why Thurston County’ and share some of our community development successes.”
Another key part of the forum involves data and trends related to commercial, industrial, retail and multi-family properties. Ron Thomas, founder and president of Thomas Architecture Studios, finds that aspect particularly valuable. “In the architecture profession, it’s important that we stay informed of market trends,” he explains. “We need to know what project types are finding success and which companies are active in our local market. The Real Estate Forum is an opportunity for us to gain insight on all of these critical issues in an efficient one-day event.”
The uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 has made predictions about the future more challenging, but market projections are still possible. Commercial real estate is closely tied to the business community and therefore impacted by trends like the increasingly common practice of working from home. “In the COVID-19 environment that we’re all operating in, it’s critical that we gain as much insight from others to understand what is and is not working for their businesses,” says Thomas. “We need to learn from others’ successes, and mistakes.”
Some of the breakout sessions will be focused on not just the impact of the pandemic, but what a post-pandemic market might look like. With all the challenges the industry faces, Evan Parker believes there’s reason for optimism. “While I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, this is an exciting time to be active in the Thurston County market.”