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On Greater Boston's Ever-Expanding Brain Gain

Here's the latest installment of Bates By the Numbers, a weekly feature by Boston real estate agent David Bates that drills down into the Hub's housing market to uncover those trends you would not otherwise see. Check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.

Why are so many seeing Greater Boston as a place to invest in commercial real estate? Could it be because there's a lot of wicked smaht people here?

Two of the panelist at the recent NAIOP event, "Boston – The Investment World's Newest Heavyweight," seem to agree with such a hypothesis.

"I think arguably we're one of the most innovative cities in the country," Rob Griffin, one of the Hub's leading commercial agents, said.

Griffin noted the hundreds of biotech and pharma companies now situated in Massachusetts, a concentration of companies referred to by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council as a "supercluster" that is "second to none." Massachusetts biotech firms employ more than 50,000 people at significantly above-average salaries, and do so much research that Massachusetts is the second largest state in funding received from the National Institute of Health.

Griffin pointed to the Cambridge Innovation Center as another symbol of innovation in Massachusetts. The CIC website says it has "More Startups Than Anywhere Else On The Planet" and that CIC companies have raised more than $1.8 billion in venture capital.

Referring to a conversation he had with CIC President Brian Dacey, Griffin said that the CIC currently had 600 startups under one roof and that many of these companies would take the next step of renting significant space on their own in the next five to seven years. A good number of them, too, would go on to become household names.

Stuart Shiff, whose company Divco West manages more than $7 billion real estate assets, primarily in Northern California, Los Angeles and Austin, called Boston "a must-have market." Over the last two years, his firm has acquired buildings in Cambridge, the Financial District and the Seaport.

Shiff said that his company chases "markets where education and immigration are superior to the rest of the U.S. ... There's definitely a correlation between education and immigration and growth." While Massachusetts has been called the "highest educated workforce in the United States," Divco West also tracks H1-B visa applications, the type of visas issued to educated workers in specialized jobs, to help quantify immigration strength in a market.

How does the Hub compare to other areas? According to Shiff: "In the US, it's a three per thousand application rate; in our top 10 markets, it's 10 per thousand; in Boston, it's 16.8 per thousand. In Cambridge, moreover, it's "north of 30 per thousand."

Shiff, whose company focuses on investing in real estate in technology-strong markets, noted that his tenants "need to get the best brains out there" and will pay incredible prices when the market is doing well in order to be in the right place to attract that talent. Griffin pointed out that companies with the right city location often feel they can attract talent more easily and even give employees lower salaries than if they were in the suburbs. So, it probably comes as no surprise that both Shiff and Griffin see rents going up for Hub office space.
· Our Bates By the Numbers archive [Curbed Boston]

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