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JLL's Greg O'Brien, C&W's Joe Stettinius Talk Brexit, DC Real Estate

Two of the most powerful men in US commercial real estate, Cushman & Wakefield Americas chief Joe Stettinius and JLL Americas CEO Greg O'Brien shared the stage at Bisnow's DC State of the Market: Part 2 yesterday, offering their thoughts on the chaos in Europe and the local real estate market.

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The two industry titans began their discussion by offering their takes on Brexit

Joe said the vote emphasizes the benefit of America as a stable and predictable market, but said it is still too early to tell what the full effect will be. 

"The definition of what leaving means is still open for discussion and decision," Joe said. "So it could be as simple as creating through treaty something that looks very much like the relationship today, or it could be a much more isolationist conclusion, in which case the impact is probably more significant." 

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During the week before the Brexit vote, Greg was in Europe with 100 of JLL's largest European capital market clients and he said not a single one of them predicted the UK would vote to leave the European Union.

So Greg went to bed while the votes were being tallied. When he woke up to see the "leave" vote had won, he was shocked. 

Ultimately, Greg says the move shouldn't affect the US too much, since exports to the UK make up roughly a 10th of a percent of US GDP. He also expressed confidence in the future of London's real estate market.

"At the end of the day if you look at London, which is obviously the biggest real estate market in UK, it has all of the fundamentals," he said. "It has talent, it has infrastructure, it is probably the most diverse city in the world. It has scale and other things. If anybody thinks this is the end of London, I think you're wrong." 

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The discussion was moderated by another CEO, Akridge's Matt Klein

Both Joe and Greg lead their companies' Americas divisions and both happen to be located here in the nation's capital

Greg remembers when he moved to DC in the '80s with Trammell Crow, Washington was a "one-horse town" dominated by the federal government. Today, he notes, government spending accounts for just 35% of the gross regional product, and he praised the city's booming life sciences and technology sectors, as well as the highly skilled workforce

"We have that unbelievable magnet that's going to bring and keep companies here, in whole or in part, and that's going to make this, long term, a better and better region," Greg said. 

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Both execs—pictured here consorting before their chat—lamented Washington's image around the country as "dysfunctional," arguing the region has to be a more assertive advocate in displaying its vibrant culture to the rest of the US. 

"I don't like it when people hear on the national or international news what’s wrong with Washington or you see on Time magazine, 'Washington is broken,'" Joe said. "That doesn't help us be perceived as great place to live and work and raise families and have careers.

"I think we have to be mindful that that's not a great sound bite, and we have to say, 'Hey, it's relevant, it's the place you want to be, it's where decisions are made,'" Joe continued. "I think as a business community we have to continue to drive that and talk about innovation." 

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The event, attended by just shy of 500 industry professionals, also featured discussions with Kettler's Bob Kettler, EagleBank's Ron Paul, JBG's Matt Klein and First Potomac's Robert Milkovich. (We'll have more coverage from their panels tomorrow.)

Before the event, the high-profile executives joined hundreds of others in a breakfast and networking session. Above, Greg poses with BRG's Katy Redmond and Epic Consulting Firm's Theo Bell