Dale Scott can't keep up with the demand for new retail development — from new grocery stores to mixed-use condos and storefronts — spreading across Florida right now.
Scott, an ambassador with the International Council of Shopping Centers and a director with Hawkins Construction, is happy to be busy after development suffered during and after the Great Recession. Scott says that this new momentum will be the theme of ICSC's Florida conference this year, which was set to kick off at the Orlando Convention Center on Sunday.
"Everything is heating up right now," Scott said. "We went through so many years where people were talking about projects that just never happened. Finally, these deals are starting to roll in again."
More than 4,000 retail industry professionals — including contractors, real estate developers and brand executives — flock there every year to ink deals and discuss future projects for Florida.
The summer conference is usually a good barometer for the local economy overall, Scott said. It's where builders and developers determine how hungry consumers are for new brands, new stores and new shopping centers.
Last week, Scott answered a few questions about the state's retail landscape.
Where are the biggest areas of growth for retail in Florida?
Grocery stores continue to be the main player in Florida and always will be. The number of new people moving into the state every year is incredible, and that creates a demand for new grocery stores to be built every year.
Publix is always going to be a major player in grocery stores in Florida. They've spent the last few years remodeling a number of stores and repositioning others. With some of the older stores, they're tearing them down and building new ones. In some parts of Tampa Bay and South Florida, there is so little land available to build brand-new stores. So a lot of retailers are having to upgrade existing stores before they find room to build new.
But there are a lot of new players coming in. Aldi and Trader Joe's have been here for a little while and made strong entrances. Then there are Sprouts, Earth Fare and Lucky Supermarket that are looking to enter Florida. Plus Whole Foods Market and the Fresh Market that continue to expand. None of these beat Walmart though, which seems to be on a feeding frenzy in Florida with its neighborhood market concept.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the retail industry in Florida right now?
A major factor affecting retail growth in Florida is a dwindling number of skilled workers in the construction industry. There are so many major projects on the books right now, but if we don't find the laborers we need to build them, this is going to become an industrywide problem. This is an issue contractors in Florida are facing on a day-to-day basis. In the short term, there's no real answer right now. But if it's not fixed, projects will be strung out over longer terms as workers who are not skilled will be learning the trade while on the job.
Which metro area is leading the state in new retail development?
South Florida, especially Miami, is clearly leading the state in development. Miami is hard to describe to anyone right now. There are so many major projects out there. There are millions of square feet of retail coming in mostly in the form of mixed-use centers. Tampa Bay is busy, too, with several projects. And they're serious, these aren't pipe dreams anymore. Permits are in place, and they're moving forward.
Tell me more about the ICSC Florida conference. Why is this conference so important?
The conference is expected to be high energy this year because there is so much planning going on. There will be well over 4,000 people at this conference. It's one of the larger real estate conferences in the country. Anyone doing retail work of any capacity in Florida will be at this conference.