US & Global Economic Impact Analysis and Forecasts

Freedonia analysts and economists are sharing their insights on how major events are impacting different parts of the US and global economies.

Back to the Office…Productivity Needs & Desire for Privacy in the Office Clashing With the Return-to-Office Perks?

Now that more people are used to the privacy of working from home, what adjustments are workers asking for as they return to the office?

Love them or hate them, but after decades of expansive open-concept designs at home and at work, walls are back. In this case, cubicles! Cubicles and semi-private seating where desks are separated by low partitions are making a comeback. Design trends aren’t necessarily toward the “cube farms” of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but something in between that and the “open office” designs with few or no walls. In this modern version, private spaces (cubicles and phone rooms) exist alongside of semi-private spaces (low walls or desks tucked into corners) and open spaces intended for collaboration.

And why do they want to close doors or “hide” from colleagues? Returning to the office also means returning to chatty colleagues, in-office client visits, and noise from perks such as video games and new coffee and snack stations, which might make heads-down, high concentration work more difficult. In that vein, more employees are looking for ways to signal to colleagues when they are available for questions and collaboration (the benefit of in-office work) and when they are not. Doors and walls can help, but some get more creative with color-coded lights, posted signs, or other indicators. Others – including me – use headphones, whether with music and noise cancelling engaged or not, to signal openness to conversations.

Freedonia analysts continue to watch factors such as the employee preferences, changes in design trends, commercial real estate activity and others to see how the office of the future will affect where and how we work.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, especially coverage in our construction segment and additional titles such as Work-From-Home Consumer Insights, and Freedonia Focus reports such as Office Furniture: United States, Real Estate: United States, and Office Construction: United States. Additional related reports include Office Coffee Service from our sister publisher Packaged Facts. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


Back to the Office…in the Suburbs?

With more employees resistant to long commutes after a few years of no commutes in the peak of the pandemic era, commercial real estate trends are shifting. While vacancy rates rose sharply in suburban office parks in 2020 and 2021, interest in putting offices closer to where their employees live is driving the more companies to reconsider the suburbs.

In the second quarter of 2022, brokerage firm CBRE Group noted that downtown office vacancy rates in the US surpassed the suburban vacancy rate for the first time in decades. The company noted that vacancy rates in the suburbs fell slightly to 16.8%, while it rose to 17% in city centers.

Still, it’s not just any suburban office that is seeing improvements in vacancy rates, it’s the newer modern offices close to residential neighborhoods, restaurants, and other amenities. Office facility owners that don’t yet fit that description could see better occupancy and higher rents with renovations such as contemporary design, flexible furniture and work spaces, and the addition of technological features designed for pod casting and remote or hybrid meetings. Additional benefits could come from developers reworking dedicated office and light commercial parks into mixed-use development with retail, foodservice, and residential offerings as well.

Freedonia analysts continue to watch factors such as the employee preferences, changes in design trends, commercial real estate activity and others to see how the office of the future will affect where and how we work.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, especially coverage in our construction segment and additional titles such as Work-From-Home Consumer Insights, and Freedonia Focus reports such as Office Furniture: United States, Real Estate: United States, and Office Construction: United States. Additional related reports include Office Coffee Service from our sister publisher Packaged Facts. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


Autonomous Farming?

A big area for M&A activity in the last few years is in artificial intelligence, sensors, and related hardware.

The example of John Deere’s push into technology is a telling one. The company has been making many acquisitions in this area and this month announced it was acquiring artificial intelligence start up Light.

This announcement reflects two important trends:

1) It shows a legacy company increasingly moving into AI/robotics – a trend toward innovation that is occurring across industries and should not be ignored.


2) The company Deere acquired (Light) started out making cameras for smart phones, but then became a major player in autonomous vehicles by making advanced cameras and sensors – an example of a company taking something that was pretty basic and seeing a lot of downward cost competition and creating its own market by taking what it can already do into new markets.

Freedonia analysts continue to watch trends in AI, robotics, and other automation efforts across industries for additional opportunities.  

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, especially coverage in Construction & Building Products, Consumer Goods markets, and Automotive & Transport industries. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


What Will It Take to Make Remote Workers OK With Returning to the Office?

Freedonia’s analyst, editorial, economist, custom research, and marketing teams assembled in person at the Cleveland, Ohio office this week along with new staff in business development and the content team from Simba Publishing, our sister published brand. We shared ideas, developed new plans, discussed the factors in play underlying changes in our economy, and shared how key trends impact activity across industries. Our space included open and spaced out meeting areas, open windows kept the air flowing, and we used technology to include those who were unable to join us in person.

What would it take to make workers comfortable in the office? Two factors jump out. Clean air and lower commuting costs:

  • Wellness factors have long ranked high for many workers. Is the facility clean? Are there hygiene measures in place? How is the air quality? These trends accelerated in the pandemic era as workers prioritized the use of air filtration, ventilation systems, humidifiers/dehumidifiers, and indoor plants as ways to keep workers healthy. More companies and commercial building owners upgraded their HVAC systems, often incorporating HEPA filtration or improved fresh air exchange capabilities.
  • Commuting costs have more recently become an issue. With gas prices rising to levels not seen in decades, workers wonder why they have to spend more money to get to work when they were able to do their work remotely without the cost and time of commuting. Some companies are organizing carpool groups among workers or hiring a company to provide free vanpooling for multiple workers from multiple central locations. Other companies are offering bonuses, sometimes in the form of gas cards, to workers who return to the office more often.

Either way, businesses will continue to use creative responses and investments in their workers to retain staff. The most successful businesses will make the measures they incorporate meaningful to their particular staffs. The health of the commercial real estate market and business districts around the world rely on getting this balance right.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, especially coverage in the Construction & Building Products group and the Consumer Goods markets, particularly Indoor Air Quality Equipment. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


FOMO & Buyer’s Remorse – Two Sides of the Housing Market

Is the market showing signs of a housing bubble? The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas thinks it’s possible and warned this week that the market is showing “signs of a brewing US housing bubble.”

FOMO (fear of missing out) is a key factor causing concern. Buyers – both prospective owner-occupants and investors – are skipping inspections and coping with rapidly rising prices and bidding wars to make sure they aren’t left behind. As more prospective home buyers believe that prices will continue to rise even faster, they will be willing to make even more concessions to the seller out of concern that the prices will be even higher in a few months or years to come.

However, FOMO purchases that end up being rash decisions not only cause the market to overheat but lead to increased incidents of buyers’ remorse. If there is a market correction in the near future, that will be even more problematic for the home owners who are already seeing reasons to regret their purchase.

Some COVID-era buyers took money they had been spending on travel or on rent close to downtown offices and redirected to the purchase of a home, often with space for a home office, backyard entertaining, and away from city centers. However, as pandemic restrictions ease, some new homeowners regret not having that budget for travel. Others expected to be able to make renovations to improve a quickly bought home, but were surprised by the high cost and delays involved in everything from new floors to appliances and furniture.

This delayed ability to make a home the way a new homeowner would like it to be will contribute to extending the COVID-era home improvement boom. Still, the heat of the market is something to watch. Many economists agree that changes in lending practices since the 2008 recession will limit the impact if a bubble bursts. However, remodeling activity and trends in updating homes have long been a more important part of the construction industry and the willingness of homeowners to invest in their properties is crucial to the health of the market.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, especially coverage in the Construction & Building Products markets. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.