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The Sunny Side

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Miami is the epicenter of tall-tower construction; image by Ralph Nas for Pixabay.

Resilient, vibrant and growing, the region is treating VT companies well.

Before the pandemic, TK Elevator’s (TKE) MAX cloud-based predictive-maintenance tool used data from more than 85,000 connected elevators throughout the U.S. to ascertain that there were approximately 14 million daily elevator trips on those elevators nationwide. That number plunged to 5.5 million daily trips in April 2020, but rebounded to more than 10.6 million as of February 2021. TKE’s data analysis revealed a very interesting fact: In a COVID-19-weary nation, the difference between elevator usage in states such as California and beach-centric Florida was striking. Usage rose from 38% to 59% from April 2020 to February 2021 in California, and from 44% to 86% in Florida during that same timeframe. The condo-tower and elevator hotspot of Miami reached 100%, with Sarasota not far behind at 92%, that same month.

The Florida market, observes TKE North America CEO Kevin Lavallee, has “stayed very hot.” Beyond Miami, TKE is seeing brisk business in Orlando and Tampa. People are relocating from pricey, fast-paced places like Los Angeles and NYC to cities in more-affordable and laid-back Southern states such as Florida, he says, adding, “That trend is certainly driving the residential market, which is especially hot right now.” 

Tray Edmonds, founder and principal of Compass Elevator Consulting, LLC, headquartered in Apollo Beach just south of Tampa, says his consultancy is busier now than before the pandemic. Compass is looking to hire an additional Miami-based consultant. Edmonds states:

“We’re very, very busy in South Miami. We’re also seeing brisk business in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota, but Miami is the epicenter of everything. We do a lot in the condo market in terms of full elevator system modernizations.”

Edmonds believes that the pandemic had a positive effect on the Florida condominium market in that it enhanced the idea of “staying put” rather than moving around. He says:

“In the south Florida market, a lot of people would buy a condo in a new building and then sell it. Now, we’re finding that people are not rolling properties quite as much as they used to. They are staying put in that condo building that might be 15 years old, but realizing they’ve got to spend money on things like the VT system so it’s reliable. Also, a lot of it is keeping up with the Joneses. One building will do something like put in touchscreens and destination dispatch and the building next door has to do the same.”

During the International Association of Elevator Consultants 2021 Forum in Orlando, Florida, in early July, the tragic story of the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo tower near Miami was a hot topic of conversation. Consultants with whom your author spoke do not believe the incident will staunch the desire for Florida condo living. Michael Ryan, vice president of business development at The Peelle Co., lives in New York and has a condo vacation home in Florida. “Of course, my thoughts are very much with the people who lost their lives and their loved ones, but what happened there involved issues related to that particular property,” Ryan says. He points out that Florida has some of the strictest building codes and standards out of any state in the country. If anything, he says, what happened in the town of Surfside will help ensure these codes and standards are more strictly adhered to and enforced.

Meanwhile, rarely a day goes by that doesn’t see an announcement of yet another condominium tower in the Miami area. More often than not, these condos are ritzy and outfitted with amenities such as personal elevators and even large, custom-built systems for a resident’s Porsche or Bentley. Chicago’s Mid-American Elevator Co. designed the custom car elevators for the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach near Miami, and all the tower construction is generating business for others, as well. According to the 2021 South Florida Brickell report by RelatedISG Realty, the Brickell submarket officially became a seller’s market in June. There simply aren’t enough condos to meet demand.

The steady rise of towers, and the VT systems to serve them, is not relegated to Florida, Lavallee observes:

“We’re seeing fantastic activity in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. In the Lone Star State, mainstays like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin continue to thrive, as well as the Southeast strongholds of Atlanta; Nashville, Tennessee; and Charlotte. The educational market in Texas is really driving a lot of growth. We’re seeing strong numbers in the industrial sector, especially in Georgia, as well as the medical sector in North Carolina. The South is strong, for sure.”

The Sunny Side 2
TKE isn’t the only company to move its headquarters to Atlanta; image by Chanh Nguyen for Pixabay.

At Arlington, Texas-headquartered EMR Elevator, business has been brisk, says EMR Sales and Marketing Manager Jackie Herrera. “Texas has been booming throughout the pandemic, even though we did have some losses,” Herrera says, mainly contract work with facilities like schools and airports that were largely or completely shut down. “We worked really hard with our customers to make sure we provided reliable units. Even if there are very few people in a building, they still deserve a safe elevator.”

Among recent and current notable EMR jobs are a historic conversion in Austin and a 27-car modernization at a Class-A office tower in downtown Dallas. The company also has “quite a few” University of Texas projects coming up, Herrera says. 

“[People] are staying put in that condo building that might be 15 years old, but realizing they’ve got to spend money on things like the VT system so it’s reliable. Also, a lot of it is keeping up with the Joneses.”

Tray Edmonds, Compass Elevator Consulting founder and principal

Business is looking up as well for Madden Elevator Co., headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. President Sean Madden observes that due to the pandemic, work that was slated for late 2020 and early 2021 got pushed ahead to “fill open gaps in Q2 2021.” Madden says:

“We recently have been gaining some traction on the modernization side. It looks like people are starting to spend some of their capital money. In Q1, the economy was starting to open and, by midway into Q2, our quoting activity began ticking upward. We expect this trend to continue for the remainder of the year and into next year.”

The lion’s share of Madden’s business is in the Louisville area, but Sean Madden says his company has been getting a lot of opportunity in Lexington and, more recently, in Frankfort, Kentucky. “There is also some movement going farther south, although we are not in those markets yet,” Madden says. “Nashville, Tennessee, is booming. We have strategies to eventually grow in those areas over the next five years.” Madden has seen an increased interest in remote elevator monitoring technology (such as Madden’s eVator) in the markets it serves.

TKE’s Lavallee says customers across the South are embracing the latest VT technology. He observes: 

“We are seeing really high interest in the latest technological advancements in buildings. Building owners across North America, but specifically in the South, are focusing on improving the tenant and visitor experience. Property owners in cities like Miami, Nashville and Houston are implementing our Agile mobile technology. We recently sold more than 5,000 of our MAX digital subscription packages in the South alone.”

The South is growing quickly, Lavallee says, and tower tenants are demanding modern amenities and modern experiences. “There are so many cool and innovative things we can do with elevator systems now,” he says. Many of those “cool and innovative things” will be showcased at TKE’s Innovation and Qualification Center (IQC), part of its new North American headquarters nearing completion in Atlanta. The IQC will include the 420-ft-tall, transparent test tower, set to be unveiled in January 2022.

Lavallee, who moved from Essen, Germany (near TKE’s global headquarters), to Atlanta when he was named CEO in 2019, exudes optimism about the region’s prospects. He says:

“The South is a very special region for us for obvious reasons. It’s our new home in North America, and it’s my home now. Personally, we are very proud to be showcasing our industry in a way that’s never happened before. We expect the momentum we’ve established here in the Southeast to continue in those key states and cities I referenced previously, with extensive growth particularly in the service area in places like Nashville, where we just completed a really large acquisition of a long-term partner company. The South is, clearly, not just good for the elevator industry but other businesses, as well. The amount of head offices that recently relocated to Atlanta, in particular, is astounding. It’s at a record pace. They can’t keep up with housing demand because so many people are relocating to the South.”

The Sunny Side 3
Charlotte’s Financial District; photo from Pixabay
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