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SF Examiner: SF State, nonprofit team up to recruit students for booming commercial real estate industry

By November 26, 2014Media Coverage, News

From Mission Bay to the Central Subway to Hunters Point to Parkmerced, every inch of The City appears to be getting a makeover.

After years of stagnant growth during the Great Recession, more and more cranes are popping up in the San Francisco skyline. Such construction is further proof that The City is experiencing one of its biggest development waves since it was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

But after all these new buildings open, who will run them? Who will manage the properties, coordinate with tenants and hire the staff, such as janitors and security, necessary to operate them?

“Everywhere we see a construction site, that translates not just to construction jobs, but to commercial real estate jobs in one form or another,” said Nancy Gille, who runs a San Francisco-based consulting firm for the commercial real estate industry.

The trend is being felt throughout the U.S. as well as Asia, but particularly in The City, where other industries such as technology and medicine are overshadowing the commercial real estate sector, Gille noted.

Increased construction and competition with the tech world are not the only reasons more people are needed to fill commercial real estate jobs. Much of the workforce is comprised of baby boomers who are gearing up to retire in the next several years, according to experts. In fact, nearly half of the commercial real estate workforce nationwide is expected to retire in the next five years.

“We have a serious talent deficit and it’s only getting worse as boomers retire,” said Marc Intermaggio, executive vice president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco.

That’s why BOMA teamed up with San Francisco State University in fall 2012 to begin offering courses in the finance department of the School of Business that lead to a certificate in commercial real estate.

To date, four courses that each have high demand are available: real estate principals, fundamentals of real estate, commercial real estate financial management and commercial leasing and development.

“[Students] can go into anything from asset management to property management, facilities managing, leasing, marketing, brokering,” explained Sandra Boyle, chairwoman of the BOMA Foundation’s board of directors that committed to funding the program for three years.

“It gives them a good basis because they’re coming out of finance, which is what real estate is about today,” Boyle said.

BOMA helps write the curriculum, pays for the professors to teach the four courses, provides guest lectures from those in the industry, and offers full scholarships to some of the students enrolled in the certificate program.

The classes have seen such success that next fall, BOMA hopes to expand the curriculum to a seven-course program that would give students a specialty in commercial real estate in addition to a business degree.

The foundation is also discussing the possibility of adding a graduate program.

“What we’re finding is that graduates are so excited about the program that they are wanting to come back to school just to take the undergraduate program,” Boyle said.

Jim Arce, a commercial real estate services provider in The City, and Gille teach the commercial real estate financial management course together. Spreading awareness of the industry is a key factor in their lesson.

Every day, thousands of people enter buildings to go to work in San Francisco — but rarely does one consider the operation behind the walls, they noted.

“People spend literally half their life in an office building, and they don’t really think about what it takes to … operate those buildings,” Intermaggio said.

That’s where the real estate courses come in, to educate students about the industry and recruit them into the field.

“Somebody will need to physically manage the building, somebody will need to finance the building, somebody will need to fill the building or, if it’s leased, somebody still needs to run the real estate to keep the tenant satisfied,” Arce said.

And the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.

“It’s probably one of the most dynamic real estate industries in the world in San Francisco right now,” Arce said. “You can’t keep up with the pace of hiring people because there’s just not enough attention or awareness about real estate.”

Kent Elliot, who runs a real estate recruitment firm in San Francisco, has been tracking the increased need for property managers and others in the field. There have been four straight years of recovery in commercial real estate jobs, and future employment trends in the sector look positive as well, he added.

“I’m seeing continued growth at the same levels through 2015 and into 2016,” Elliot said.