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ODW Logistics operates a 583,000 square foot warehouse in the Lockbourne area
03.05.20245 min read

Central Ohio sees record amount of new warehouse space. Now, who will fill it?



Dan Wendorf, a commercial real-estate broker with JLL in Columbus, stands in the 1,090,000 square foot warehouse he is representing in West Jefferson, Ohio. A record 19.3 million square feet of industrial and warehouse space was built in central Ohio last year. Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

A typical Walmart Supercenter is 220,000 square feet.

Now imagine 88 of them.

That's how much industrial and warehouse space was built in central Ohio last year — a record 19.3 million square feet worth, nearly 7 million more square feet than the previous year, according to the commercial real-estate firm JLL.

Now ... who's going to fill all those warehouses, most of which were built "on spec" without tenants?

"We're in a new chapter right now," said Dan Wendorf, executive managing director for JLL's Columbus office. "How do we navigate these waters?"

More: The warehouses of central Ohio

Last year, about 8 million square feet of industrial space was leased in central Ohio, less than half the amount built. As a result, about 7.4% of central Ohio's total industrial space is vacant, the highest rate in a decade, Wendorf said. For-lease signs can be found throughout the area's largest industrial parks in Rickenbacker, West Jefferson, Etna, Obetz, New Albany and elsewhere.


Other warehouses are available to rent around the same industrial area in West Jefferson, Ohio. Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

From inside a new 1.1-million-square-foot warehouse JLL is leasing for the builder, Stonemont, in the West Jefferson Commerce Park, Wendorf recently surveyed the neighborhood.

"Five years ago, most of this didn't exist," he said looking out over a sea of new warehouses. "Now you've got Amazon, Target, Mars Petcare, Restoration Hardware, Medline, Kellogg. .... If you buy something, there's a good chance it came from a warehouse somewhere in central Ohio."

Central Ohio's boom in warehouse construction started during the pandemic, as retailers had to instantly accommodate an explosion in online shopping, and suppliers fought to fill sudden gaps in the supply chain.

In the first few years of the pandemic, builders could hardly keep up with demand. Now, supply has more than caught up.

"In '21, '22, it was not uncommon for buildings to be leased five or six months before they were finished," Wendorf said. "Now, they might sit empty five or six months before leasing."


A 1,090,000 square foot warehouse being represented by Dan Wendorf of JLL in West Jefferson. Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

About 6.5 million square feet of industrial space are under construction now in central Ohio, but builders for the most part are taking a breather when those wrap up. As Wendorf notes, "new construction has all but come to a halt" as demand catches up to supply.

Landlords may not welcome an abundance of supply, it's a plus for those who use the spaces.

"There's more capacity now, that's a benefit for us. There was a period you couldn't get space. That's come full circle now."


ODW Logistics operates a 583,000-square-foot warehouse in the Lockbourne area. Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

Despite a glut of space now, Wendorf, Clark and others are bullish on central Ohio's market for industrial and warehouse space. The area's central location, cargo airport, retail industry, and highway and rail access have long given it a niche in the logistics and warehouse world, and helped it become the nation's 15th largest distribution hub with 292 million square feet of industrial space.

For the same reasons, the Midwest overall is a hub for distribution. Chicago is by far the nation's largest distribution center, and Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids and Kansas City are all in the top 20, along with Columbus, according to JLL.

"Demand has been very consistent in Columbus," Clark said. "Columbus has been a great distribution location, it's a stable labor market with great access to highways, rail and air. ... You can also develop here more easily and less costly than, say, Pittsburgh, which is so hilly."


A 1,090,000-square-foot warehouse in West Jefferson with 40-foot ceilings is typical of some of central Ohio's biggest new warehouses. Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

As Clark and Wendorf note, a tremendous variety of tenants occupy central Ohio industrial and warehouse space.

Some recent major leases illustrate the range. Two of last year's biggest leases were consumer products companies: Black & Decker leased nearly 1.1 million square feet in Etna and Babylist leased 750,000 square feet near Rickenbacker.

Logistics companies such ODW, who manage warehouses for their other companies, are also big tenants.

"For us, we work with food and beverage users, food especially, and we do a lot of work in health and beauty such as cosmetics companies, and IT hardware," Clark said. "The clients principally sell to retail such as Walmart and Kroger, or they will sell direct or through Amazon from the distribution center."

And finally, there are manufacturers. Illuminate USA, for example, occupied a 1.1-million-square-foot warehouse in Pataskala for a factory that will make 9.2 million solar panels a year.

While new tenants continue to take up space, central Ohio has also seen several large departures in recent months.

Newell Brands notified the state in January that it plans to shut down its Yankee Candle distribution center in Licking County in March. In October, DHL Supply Chain announced that it was laying off 264 workers at a Groveport warehouse that lost its tenant. In December, Zulily announced that it is shutting down and closing a distribution center in Obetz, and TJX plans to vacate a 1-million-square-foot Rickenbacker warehouse.

"There's a lot of sublease space now," Wendorf said. "That's something we haven't seen much of."

Source: The Columbus Dispatch | Jim Weiker


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