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Mass Migration To Southeast Paves The Way For Commercial Development Boom


The coronavirus pandemic has driven Americans of all ages out of metropolitan hubs to less populated areas of the country. Southern states including Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have benefited from this exodus.

Not only have more people relocated to these states, but major companies have also rooted themselves in the Southeast, encouraging more families and working professionals to call the region home. As more single-family homes and neighborhoods sprout up across the region, opportunities for new commercial development dramatically increase.

These Southeast states all offer more affordability and more space than their coastal counterparts. But the move toward the Southeast isn’t all about density. It’s also about creating a different life. Though many new residents do desire larger living spaces that cater to their diverse household needs, they also want to live within a community that caters to their post-pandemic lifestyle.

“In the next few years, we anticipate that both neighborhood planning and house planning will be redesigned to facilitate society’s lifestyle changes,” said Jimmy Garrison, principal and department manager at Thomas & Hutton, a development firm serving the Southeast. “The property lots themselves will be reconfigured to provide more outdoor space for public and private use. Even commercial nodes will be developed so that they integrate outdoor meeting spaces and connect to communities via multipurpose trails.”

Garrison said that many opportunities for new CRE development are on the horizon for areas experiencing an increase in single-family and multifamily construction. Thomas & Hutton's offices throughout Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas all report an increase in population, commercial growth and business relocation.  

Thomas & Hutton Regional Director for Atlanta Garrett Phelps agreed that commercial spaces will need to discover new ways to cater to their clientele. New commercial development has the opportunity to integrate amenities into its design that can cater to evolving needs of new communities. This presents new commercial real estate developments with an advantage over existing CRE spaces, such as large, corporately owned retail stores, which may be unable to quickly, affordably and adequately pivot to meet post-pandemic needs.

“Businesses need to rethink and reinvent the way in which they serve their customers,” Phelps said. “Restaurants, for example, are trying to adapt by offering outdoor seating and open-air concepts, but this is difficult to accomplish for existing spaces.”


Georgia’s Growing CRE Opportunity

Major brands are in the process of relocating to the Atlanta area, announcing their intentions to plant major hubs or headquarters in the Southeast metropolis. Microsoft announced plans to invest in Atlanta’s Westside with the development of a 90-acre campus to include housing and data centers. Airbnb followed suit by confirming plans to create an Atlanta Technical Hub in Westside Atlanta.

Other large companies, including Papa John’s and the Adecco Group, are moving into the Atlanta metro area as well. Phelps said that many areas outside of the state capital are also seeing a rise in residential population, spurred by the new jobs these corporations are creating.

“In Atlanta, the family housing market is on the rise,” Phelps said. “Business centers are driving development in Atlanta’s suburbs, such as Forsyth County and Gwinnett County as well. While single-family home availability traditionally grew on the Northside, the Southside is now being targeted for single-family and multifamily development.”

Phelps acknowledges that the relationship between residential and commercial growth can be supported and strengthened by a commitment to the evolving needs of a community. For instance, Thomas & Hutton has partnered with the city of Covington to design and develop spaces that will support Georgia’s growing residential and commercial population.

One of the city’s ongoing projects is the new Covington Town Center. Upon completion, this 170-acre site will feature three hotels, 313K SF of office space, 431 dedicated townhome and multifamily units and 371K SF of retail space, including dedicated anchor shops and a cinema.

Thomas & Hutton also provided master-planning services to a brand-new 550-acre Entertainment Media Campus in Newton County. Pedestrian pathways and dedicated golf cart paths were developed to connect the campus to the nearby retail and commercial sites. A large green space is also planned for development to accommodate future outdoor events.

New development throughout Covington and the greater Newton County area will likely drive an increase in residents, commuters and visitors, which is why Thomas & Hutton also helped enhance Covington’s Highway 278 expansion. In 2018, the firm provided extensive planning and design services to rethink the 3.1-mile corridor for both vehicular and pedestrian use. The plan included wide multipurpose sidewalks, the integration of mature trees in medians and roundabout installation to replace signalized intersections.

“Hardly any projects were being developed in Covington and Newton County over the last decade,” Phelps said. “Now, relocated businesses and commerce centers are paving the way for multifamily and single-family home development which will only create more commercial development opportunities. The pandemic certainly will elevate this growth, not just in major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, but in cities like Charlotte, Nashville and Myrtle Beach as well.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Thomas & Hutton and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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