Baltimore electrical engineering company Gill-Simpson plans to build an office complex on 13 acres in Owings Mills, the first new office construction in that part of the county to start this year and a sign to some observers of better days ahead for the stalled commercial real estate market.
The company, which attributes some of its growth to the federal military base closure and realignment, is scheduled to break ground this week on a 40,000-square foot headquarters, the first phase of a three-building project. The company is counting on room for expansion in the new building, where it expects to grow from 50 employees to 75 within three years, said Chris Odell, president of Gill-Simpson.
The 78-year-old company employs 550 people, including workers at job sites across the mid-Atlantic and staff at the current Loch Raven Road headquarters in the city, where the company has been based for 50 years, and at offices in Hagerstown and Cumberland.
Odell said the company plans to keep its office in the city, which it owns, and lease it out.
Gill-Simpson's new headquarters on Red Run Boulevard is expected to be completed in May. The company plans to lease all of the second and third buildings, which total an additional 140,000 square feet, and hopes to secure the first tenants and start building within three years, Odell said.
"Everyone knows the leasing market is a difficult market right now, but we believe in the long-term fundamentals of this area," said Odell, who said the company has always owned its own facilities.
As an electrical engineering contractor, Gill-Simpson sees increasing demand for its business in industrial and commercial customers' needs for energy efficiency. It provides services for wind farms, solar projects and energy-efficient lighting for large business clients, Odell said. The new headquarters building, for which the company will handle all of the electrical construction, will be designed as a highly energy-efficient project that the company hopes will showcase its work.
"Long-term for us, renewable power and energy efficiency are two large markets," Odell said. "There's so much going on in the electrical market, both on the generation side and the usage side, and we are transitioning from an electrical contractor to an energy contractor."
The company's BRAC-related growth includes a contract to provide all of the electrical engineering work for a nearly 2 million-square-foot Department of Defense project at Aberdeen Proving Ground that will accommodate a command transferring to Maryland from New Jersey.
While a few developers have remained active during the recession, development has slowed throughout the region and in particular in the Owings Mills area, where no new office buildings have started in at least a year, said Michael T. Mull, an associate at KLNB commercial real estate firm and broker for office and industrial properties in Baltimore County. Only one new building, at 93,000 square feet, was completed in the western part of the county in the second quarter of the year.
"Certainly, development has been at a standstill for the last couple of years due to the economy," Mull said. "It's been very slow, but I think things are starting to loosen up a little bit. It's heading in the right direction, and we're starting to gain some traction."
Developers who plan to occupy a project they are building will generally have an easier time getting financing. Development of new buildings without signed tenants still remains difficult, as lenders are much less willing to count on space filling up at the rate seen before the recession, he said.
"The biggest thing we're still seeing is a lack of tenants out in the marketplace," Mull said.
But Gill-Simpson's plans show confidence in the future of the local economy, said David S. Iannucci, executive director of Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development.
"I certainly believe and hope the Maryland economy is pulling out of the recession faster and stronger than the nation as a whole, and Baltimore County has done a better job of holding on to its jobs during the recession than the U.S. as a whole, or even Maryland," Iannucci said. "They're on safe ground in anticipating growth in the greater Baltimore region within a three-year period."
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