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Coming together: New president Machemer out to transform NAIOP NJ's role in industry

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Clark Machemer is a 15-year member of NAIOP New Jersey.
Clark Machemer is a 15-year member of NAIOP New Jersey. - ()

As a 15-year member of NAIOP New Jersey, Clark Machemer knows all about the benefits of the commercial real estate association.

It’s twofold, he said, starting with “using the educational side of the equation from NAIOP to make sure we’re up to speed on what’s going on and what can be impacting the industry.” Knowing the latest policy issues as a developer goes a long way when working with a local government.

And being a member gives you access to some of the state’s most talented professionals.

“Over the course of time, there are special projects that come along, and relationships you have with other members make it easier to put that team together,” said Machemer, senior vice president and regional development officer of the Northeast region for Rockefeller Group. “So that’s helped me personally as the Rockefeller Group has developed in New Jersey — knowing who are the best professionals for any given project. That’s been a direct benefit for us.”

It’s why Machemer hopes to see those benefits continue and expand while he serves as president of NAIOP’s New Jersey chapter. Last month, the association announced he would assume the role for a two-year term, moving up after serving as the chapter’s vice president for public affairs.

Machemer said his goals as president include boosting NAIOP New Jersey’s membership beyond its existing 662 members, along with growing the organization’s education, advocacy and economic development efforts. NJBIZ spoke to the industry veteran recently to discuss those ideas and the state of the commercial real estate industry.

NJBIZ: It seems fair to say that the lifeblood of an association is its membership — can you talk more about what it’s like to be a member of NAIOP New Jersey?

Clark Machemer: I think NAIOP does a good job of bringing together the ideas of its membership and then having a cohesive voice to the state — and to municipal leaders across the state — about where the industry is going. We’re relying on a lot of our great professionals. So I think it’s being that unifying voice for the real estate community to articulate the vision of where real estate is going and where, hopefully, the state is going to meet the needs of (its clients and citizens); and making sure we’re articulating ‘This is where people want to work, this is how people want to work.’

We can’t impact market forces, but it’s identifying those market forces and having that voice and being that expert to state and municipal leaders about how people are working and living. … And I think NAIOP has a pretty strong membership that can articulate that vision.

NJBIZ: You’ve been a member for more than a decade and involved with its leadership team for several years. For anyone who’s not a member, what type of time commitment does it take?

CM: For anyone who gets involved in NAIOP, it’s a great staff and they use your time very effectively. I don’t think anyone should be afraid of becoming involved in NAIOP, thinking it’s one more thing on their plate that you don’t have time for, because the staff at NAIOP is relying on the members to feed them ideas of what could be and should be done, and how we’re being impacted by different policies. So what the NAIOP staff looks to its members for is more intellectual capital, as opposed to ‘Give me five hours of your time a month.’ It’s not that, so I think it’s a great organization to become involved with, just given the strength of its staff.

NJBIZ: So what can be done to boost its ranks?

CM: I think it’s looking at the programming that NAIOP is doing. It’s always been very education-focused on what are the latest trends in real estate. And I think another way to boost membership is to try to look at some of these great inspirational projects that have been built and that are being built, and giving real estate professionals a chance to visit them and ask questions of people that are involved in that.

So, I think being a member, you’ll get access to buildings and projects that otherwise you may not have a chance to see. And that’s what we’re working on, too — trying to find some of these great places. And we have a good list of places where we’re going to be visiting and meeting with the tenants and the developers and the municipal leaders that made these places happen.

Being a member, you’re going to have access to that, and maybe otherwise you wouldn’t.

NJBIZ: Let’s shift to NAIOP’s role with public policy and advocacy. What are some of the issues that are still front and center for the association?

CM: I think COAH (the Council on Affordable Housing) remains one that’s there. A lot of uncertainty with COAH is never good for the real estate industry, and it does have a deadening effect when you have fees imposed on projects where you’re trying to create jobs. So I think the uncertainty with COAH is a difficult one.

Also on the public policy side, we’re trying to recognize where companies want to be and making sure the state and local municipalities have the ability to provide options to companies. Companies come in and they say, ‘Where do I want to locate? What sites are approved, and where can I go to get construction going on a building within six months? Where are those locations?’ So (we’re) making sure those locations are matching up with the market forces of where companies want to be.

NJBIZ: The office sector has been in a state of transition since the recession. As we hope for the job growth that will help that sector come back, what can NAIOP do to help the cause?

CM: (We should be) making sure that a lot of the great locations in New Jersey where people want to work have sites that can be developed, and the key is that developers understand where the people want to be. It’s about having an open ear at all levels of government about what the market forces are.

And I think, if you look back and say, ‘Well 10 years ago, this is where people wanted to be, and let’s zone and get sites approved for that,’ we’re missing the boat. We’ve got to be looking out 10 years. Decisions on where companies are locating are for potentially people that could be teenagers today, because it’s a long-term decision. Say you build a new building today — you’re not building that building for three years, and then you’re going to be there for 15 years, so you’re looking at 20 years out.

So that 15-year-old today is going to be 35 when that lease is up. Everyone talks about the millennials and people in their 20s — they’ll be senior leadership in these companies in 20 years and they’ll be trying to recruit the people that are kids and teenagers today. So it’s recognizing who ultimately is going to be working in these buildings and making sure that we’re tailoring the buildings — not only physical structures, but the locations — to where these people want to work. Because people are making long-term decisions when they’re making a decision where to locate.

NJBIZ: So if those are the keys to the office market, what can NAIOP do to help advance the industrial market, which already seems to be thriving?

CM: I think the industrial market remains strong. I think the state and local towns have recognized the growth of that market, and towns in the state have allowed sites that could have been developed in the past to be developed today. And this is a trend that’s been going on for 10 years, but now you’re just starting to see the fruits of the work of people as the market recovers. Sites that were targeted as good industrial sites are being built upon, and it’s because a lot of the great policies that have been put into place by the state and working with towns to get the appropriate zoning in place.

The market is cyclical, and you’ve got to be ready when the market comes. If you’re starting to react at the point the market starts to move forward, you’re going to miss it. So you’ve got to be taking advantage of when things aren’t as positive as they are now to be prepared to move forward when tenants start to come.

NJBIZ: NAIOP’s history is rooted in office and industrial property, but what about multifamily? Is that sector becoming a bigger part of what the organization is now focusing on?

CM: On the multifamily side, I think if you look at the membership of NAIOP, I would be hard-pressed to say there’s not one member of NAIOP that’s not involved in some form or fashion in multifamily. So I think we’re recognizing the needs of multifamily.

NJBIZ: How does that translate to NAIOP’s role?

CM: (With) multifamily projects, a lot of the messaging that’s involved with that from a policy perspective is being advocated by NAIOP. … A lot of the issues that you deal with on the commercial projects are now being encountered by larger multifamily projects, whether it’s the use of resources and utilities or where you can go and the transportation associated with that. I think it’s all coinciding. As multifamily has really taken off in the state, the requirements of how you go about getting a project developed and approved really align with commercial projects.

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