U.S. Industrial Market Spotlight: Charleston

by | 29 March 2019

“The Charleston industrial market is one of the fastest growing markets on the Eastern Seaboard, strategically located within an 11-hour drive of 28% of the U.S. population. It is home to the Port of Charleston, a substantial tourism industry, two automotive assembly plants (Mercedes and Volvo) and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner manufacturing facility.

Going forward, growth will primarily be driven by the expansion of the Port of Charleston. A new container terminal connected directly to Interstate 26 and dual rail carriers will open in 2021. The new and the existing terminals will enjoy a 52-foot shipping channel, allowing post-Panamax ships to traverse the harbor regardless of the tide. In anticipation of this demand, another 3.1 million square feet is under construction, which should easily be absorbed as logistics providers and automotive and aeronautical suppliers expand in the market. Based on this, I am extremely bullish on the future of the Charleston market.” – Mark Erickson, SIOR, Vice President | Charleston

Key Strengths:

The Charleston industrial market totals 54 million square feet, 73% of which is warehouse/distribution space. Occupiers continue to move into the market in droves because of the Port of Charleston and its location within the fastest-growing population region in the country, making it an ideal location for both regional and final-mile distribution. Over 800 thousand people live in or within 50 miles of Charleston, and this expected to grow by 9% in the next five years. There are over 21 million people within 250 miles of Charleston, and this is expected grow by 5% in the next five years.

A robust business climate, efficient logistics systems within the region and a prosperous economy will continue to place Charleston at the top of desirable industrial market locations. Its convenient location will draw new tenants to Charleston, who place importance on the need to be located near inland and coastal ports.

Logistics Driver:

The Charleston industrial market offers a plethora of logistics advantages. While being located near one of the fastest growing ports in the U.S. is a top draw, it also provides transportation from the ground and air. The Port of Charleston is the top economic driver for South Carolina and is responsible for 1 in 11 jobs in the state. The port, along with its inland counterparts, accounts for $53 billion in annual economic activity, 187,600 jobs and 10% of the total state GDP. From 2012–2017, it was the fastest-growing major port in the U.S. (53%). The Port of Charleston is a gateway port for automotive companies as well as the growing manufacturing industry in the Southeast U.S.

The Inland Port Greer is located on the rapidly expanding I-85 corridor in the middle of Charlanta (Charlotte-Atlanta). The inland port is surrounded by 94 million consumers within 500 miles and extends the Port of Charleston’s intermodal reach by 212 miles. Charleston International Airport continues to grow its air cargo capabilities, which is on the rise as the region attracts more industries and businesses. Freight by plane climbed nearly 36% over the past five years, according to Charleston County Aviation Authority.

Vacancy:

Due to a record amount of new construction, overall vacancy rates in Charleston increased 50 basis points in 2018 to 9.0%. The largest increases occurred in product over 500,000 square feet which went from 0.8% to 11.8% in 2018. Despite strong projected demand in all size ranges, a large amount of speculative development will keep vacancy rates at its current level in 2019. 

Absorption:

Charleston was one of the best performing markets in the country in 2018 with a decade high 3.3 million square feet of net absorption, one third of which was in the Summerville submarket. This is also the third time in the past four year that overall net absorption surpassed 2 million square feet. Charleston posted an absorption growth rate (absorption as a percent of inventory) of 6.1%, the 5th highest in the U.S. A large amount of new development will keep options robust for tenants in 2019. This should keep new leasing activity and net absorption at its current pace in the coming quarters. 

Development:

Developers and owner-users continue to break ground on new industrial buildings despite higher vacancy rates, as there continues to be a premium for new space near a major seaport. In 2018, a record 3.8 million square feet completed construction, a major contributor to higher vacancy rates at year-end. Despite higher vacancy rates, developers remain bullish on the market with an additional 3.1 million square feet under construction at year-end.

Asking Rents:

The Charleston industrial leasing market remains strong. This fact coupled with a large amount of newly developed Class A space kept asking rents high in Charleston, finishing 2018 at $4.95 per square foot per year. Asking rents increased the most in product under 25,000 square feet, and between 75,000 square feet and 99,999 square feet in 2018. With even more new construction hitting the market in 2019, asking rents should increase and possibly surpass the previous record high in 2017.

For more insights, learn about the top 10 U.S. industrial emerging markets positioned to experience the most robust increases in demand from occupiers and owners. And stay tuned for more Industrial Markets of the Month!

James Breeze is National Director of Industrial Research for Colliers International in the United States. Based in the Greater Phoenix area, he prepares quarterly and specialized industrial research reports and interprets trends and data across the country.