Observations from SAPOA’s 50th anniversary convention.
The exhibition hall at any conference is a popular place – for connecting, networking and gaining general insight into the current status of an industry. I got the sense there were fewer stands at this year’s event, perhaps a sign of a subdued economy and the tough climate for tenants and landlords alike. Having said that, with around 1400 delegates the conference was well attended and despite an overall consensus of a challenging market, industry players are motivated to find new, innovative ways to drum up opportunities.
Another observation is the focus on political commentary at this year’s event – another sign of how our industry is referenced by current events. Political analyst Justice Malala hosted a lively debate where he indicated that big business will see increased political pressure in the run-up to the elections. Business should not disappear into their shells during this period but should rather remain engaged with the public sector. We have recently witnessed the positive results of cohesive efforts with the staving off of a ratings downgrade and should continue working together for a common purpose.
I enjoyed Parks Tau, Mayor of Johannesburg’s presentation on inclusive property development. There is a definite realisation that real estate is at the core of the process to take our cities into the future. By integrating cities and increasing densification in important growth nodes (in Gauteng these are Rosebank, Soweto, Sandton and Midrand amongst others) we can contribute to the wider economy. Inclusivity boosts urban efficiency and opportunities for people. Mayor Tau’s presence at the SAPOA event is an indication of a real willingness to form partnerships with the private sector to foster an enabling environment for development.
A highlight of the two-day event was the refreshingly balanced address by economist JP Landman. He stepped out of the gloom to emphasise that what is happening in our country at the moment is not unique to South Africa, and historically we have been through this cycle before. It’s time to acknowledge our achievements (SA’s GDP per capita has actually grown faster in the last 20 years when compared to the preceding 20-year period) and keep moving forward. As business leaders, we must find innovative ways to stimulate the economy in our own sectors. Fiscal and monetary policy is out of the equation in a high inflation/rising interest rate environment, coupled with an elevated budget deficit. Landman echoed Mayor Tau’s message in saying we must use industry to create a framework for enablement and development. Progress is happening and we must find new ways to forge ahead.
Talking of finding new opportunities, the address by John Vickerman, President of Vickerman & Associates, on the potential global impact of the Panama Canal Expansion was fascinating. The changing dynamics of this expansion project could present interesting prospects for Africa, and in particular sub-Saharan African trade and transportation trends. I am keen to know what government is doing to draw private sector attention to this and if there are indeed realistic opportunities for local business to tap into.
For me, the message I took from SAPOA is clear. Yes, the property landscape is tough but there are opportunities for those prepared to innovate, to think a little differently and maybe take a calculated chance or two on new possibilities.