Tag: Google

Pittsburgh’s Tech Boom is Driving the Local Real Estate Market

Pittsburgh’s real estate landscape has changed significantly since the slowdown of the manufacturing and steel industry decades ago. The influx of technology giants such as Uber and Google has brought a rise in the demand for both commercial and residential real estate. The low cost of property relative to cities like New York and San Francisco has been attracting companies such as Duolingo, a language learning app that moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh and subsequently put up billboards in San Francisco in 2018 advertising, “Own a Home. Work in Tech. Move to Pittsburgh.” Although plenty of attention has been paid to the effects of the tech industry on residential real estate, not as much as has been placed on commercial real estate.

Today, we will try to connect the dots between the influx of high profile tech companies, trends in local employee behaviors, and how this new Pittsburgh business atmosphere is having a major impact on the local commercial real estate market.

The Current State of Pittsburgh’s Tech Boom

Most of us in Western PA have noticed the recent boost in high tech presence in our local regions. Splitting from our historical business ventures like steel and coal, Pittsburgh is becoming an affordable alternative for tech companies who are no longer willing or able to pay for spaces in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and other bloated commercial real estate markets.

Much of this tech boom is reliant on the rich talent pool being churned out by local universities. In particular, computer science, robotics, and other high tech programs at Carnegie Mellon University are routinely ranked amongst the best in the world. In recent years, companies like Google and Uber have been working hard to keep these young tech professionals in the local Pittsburgh area after graduation. Those efforts are starting to pay dividends.

Today, there are significantly more jobs (approximately 41%) in research and development than there are in iron and steel mills. Pittsburgh is also experiencing attention from investors. “SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) last year led a $93 million investment in Pittsburgh-based AI company Petuum. Innovation Works recently hosted 30 Chinese investors interested in robotics and health care start-ups.”

Office Spaces for Google, Uber, Duolingo, and More

While there are many players in the technological revitalization of Pittsburgh, there are a few key players who are leading the way.

Google has long made massive investments in Pittsburgh, particularly with their Bakery Square office spaces. The refurbished Nabisco factory is a fitting transition from the old to the new. Much like Duolingo, Google has actively pursued bringing tech talent to the Pittsburgh area to live and work in the East End.

Uber employs thousands of workers in the Pittsburgh area, which of course does not include the drivers themselves. Perhaps more importantly, Uber has selected Pittsburgh as a research center for self-driving cars. This move ties the ridesharing tech giant to our region for years to come.

Duolingo was founded and is currently headquartered in Pittsburgh. In December, Duolingo became Pittsburgh’s first tech “unicorn” when a fundraising round pushed the company’s value above $1 billion. Rather than going the route of other tech giants and selecting our region as an affordable alternative, Duolingo has always been committed to revitalizing the Pittsburgh area. Duolingo employs 200 workers in local offices.

The Impact of Tech Companies on Commercial Real Estate in Pittsburgh

Beyond the obvious connection of tech companies’ presence being an injection to the local economy, here are some concrete ways in which tech companies have impacted the local commercial real estate industry:

  • Office jobs are on the rise: commercial real estate value for office spaces have been increasing as tech companies continue to occupy more and more space. Thousands of jobs were added in the summer of 2019 as a continuing trend of higher occupancy rates for local office space.
  • Tech companies are investing in properties: not all CRE impacts are directly related to office spaces. For example, Uber recently purchased 600 acres of commercial real estate in Findlay County, PA. This space is going to be used for a self-driving test track for their latest vehicles.
  • Tech workers are driving occupancy in apartment complexes: large multi-family CRE complexes have been going up around the Pittsburgh area, particularly in areas like East Liberty, Lawrenceville, and South of downtown. These complexes are being built in part to accommodate a rising number of tech employees in our area.
  • More tech investment = more local wealth: last but not least, it is undeniable that tech dollars drive local economies. A strong local economy often means a strong commercial real estate market.

Going Forward

There are no signs that the trend of high tech companies choosing Pittsburgh will slow any time soon. An industry-wide trend of shifting away from California and other west coast markets towards traditionally affordable markets is driving the tech industry overall. Other cities experiencing similar growth include Nashville, TN and Austin, TX. The Pittsburgh commercial real estate market has responded in turn, focusing more on offering high scale amenities at premium prices.

What remains to be seen is whether any other large companies like Amazon will set up additional headquarters in our area. Regardless, the effort to keep local talent and recruit local talent to our area will certainly continue to have a major impact on our economy and real estate markets.

Amazon, Google, and Apple’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate Value

Amazon, Google, and Apple’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate Value

Amazon, Google, and Apple are three of the most important companies on earth in terms of total impact. This certainly extends to the realm of commercial real estate. In Pittsburgh, Amazon and Google alone are leasing or building about two million square feet of commercial space. It can be tempting to think of these companies as somewhat ethereal as most of us never have an in-person, real life interaction. The reality remains that all three of these companies require huge commercial real estate investments for office space, warehouse space, research and development, and much more. With this in mind, today we will review the impact that Amazon, Google, and Apple have on the US commercial real estate market.


Amazon Commercial Real Estate Footprint

Amazon Commercial Real Estate Footprint

A funny aspect of finding information about Amazon’s impact on the US CRE market is that most of the results are actually books, DVDs, and other materials about commercial real estate sold on the Amazon platform. Digging deeper, you will find that Amazon has perhaps the largest global real estate footprint in the world. In Seattle alone, the original headquarters of the e-commerce giant, their total square footage surpasses ~13 million. All of this before they announced plans to open a second, perhaps even larger American headquarters in Arlington, VA


The new headquarters is expected to create approximately 25,000 jobs in its first decade or so of operation. Construction alone has been estimated to employ some 50,000 workers with an estimated budget of $5 billion. These two mega-headquarters garner all the headlines when it comes to commercial real estate, but the footprint extends much farther. 


In Amazon’s own words: “More than 175 operating fulfillment centers and more than 150 million square feet of space where associate pick, pack, and ship millions of Amazon.com customer orders to the tune of millions of items per year. Specifically, in North America we currently have more than 110 operation facilities with a variety of employment opportunities.”


Google’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate

Google’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate

Google carries perhaps the smallest impact on commercial real estate of our three mega-corporations, but also impacts the industry in other ways. Google boasts over 70 office locations in 50+ countries around the globe including notable offices in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and San Bruno, CA. Google employs over 100,000 employees both domestically and overseas. Where Amazon’s impact on CRE is relatively straightforward with massive warehouses and nearly 8 times the number of employees, Google’s impact can also be felt through their many data centers


Google has over 20 data centers around the globe in locations such as Douglas County, GA, Mayes County, OK, and Hamina, Finland. As one can imagine, the data storage needs for a company like Google are comical. These data centers and other non-traditional commercial real estate needs are likely to grow in the coming years. This, alongside more traditional office growth and warehouse needs, means that Google will continue to drive CRE value for many years to come.


Apple Locations Impact Local CRE Markets

Apple Locations Impact Local CRE Markets

To examine how Apple impact local commercial real estate, let’s take a look at Apple’s recent decision to plant their second headquarters in Austin, TX. The new tech campus will include a $1 billion construction budget to develop a property covering approximately 133 acres. Local citizens have expressed both excitement and concern for the future local economy boon and the likelihood that prices will likely skyrocket for local real estate resources.


There is no question that when a sudden influx of cash and employment opportunities hits a mid-major market, the ripple effect touches every aspect of not only real estate, but the local economy overall. Real estate investors and current owners of local real estate can look forward to their property values climbing dramatically. For individuals who are renting their homes or businesses who are renting commercial real estate, this can pose a very real threat.


Situations like Apple’s decision to move to Austin is similar to the recent Amazon bids put in by medium sized cities like Pittsburgh. Local citizens expressed consternation that already rising pricing for real estate and other commodities would become downright unaffordable. That is the balancing act that must be struck when considering massive CRE and construction bids from any of these three powerful corporations.


Going Forward

The complexities of how Amazon, Google, and Apple affect the American real estate market are too many to distill into a neat article. Rising costs of living in tech cities like San Fransisco create situations where the wealthy are moving in and the average citizens might be leaving for greener pastures. These injections of local economic growth can also revive cities with lagging economies. Commercial real estate has trended towards the energy sector, tech sector, and infrastructure in recent years. Major corporations will continue to drive significant changes in CRE market value in the foreseeable future.