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Timber office buildings, 3D-printed homes could come to Omaha, but labor woes cloud market

Timber office buildings, 3D-printed homes could come to Omaha, but labor woes cloud market

3D Printing Home Construction

A 3D printer produces a wall panel made of a stone-like material inside the Mighty Buildings factory in Oakland, Calif. An Omaha developer is exploring bringing 3D-printed homes as a new option in the local housing market.

Millwork Commons, centered at 13th and Nicholas Streets in north downtown, has expanded. Millwork Park features a skateboard spot and basketball hoops and is preparing to build more housing.

Eco-friendly timber buildings and 3D-printed houses could be headed to the Omaha area.

They would join a local real estate market that shows promise in several ways yet is challenged by a growing labor shortage.

That’s the word from industry experts who spoke last week at the REjournals annual Midwest conference. Panelists representing commercial real estate segments gave several reasons for optimism.

Industrial and warehouse space is hot. Looser state regulations on condos should open the door to more of them being built locally.

And, many said, demand for apartments and for-sale housing remains strong.

Indeed, one developer said he is exploring bringing 3D-printed homes as a new option in the Omaha housing market. Another is planning to build what he said would be the area’s first modern commercial structure made of a contemporary mass timber product.

If there was a dominating theme that surfaced at the La Vista Embassy Suites event, it was that a local labor shortage poses a threat to commercial real estate operations.

Alicia Clark, chief executive of Seldin Co., said property management is often disrupted by a loss of employees. She said that competent workers are getting offers to “jump ship” and that Seldin, like other employers, scurries to come up with even more creative benefit packages.

Clark said Seldin adds a few properties each month to its management portfolio. If a manager or maintenance staffer is wooed away, a replacement must be recruited and trained, and that takes time and money.

Asked about the biggest challenges, she said: “Staffing and cost of staffing is definitely on the top of the list.”

“It’s hard to find talent,” said Arun Agarwal of White Lotus Group, whose projects include the redevelopment of the Civic Auditorium site and the recently renovated Hotel Deco in downtown Omaha.

Jay Noddle of Noddle Cos., who also leads the Omaha Chamber of Commerce-led urban core study group, echoed the sentiment, saying talent recruitment is Omaha’s greatest challenge.

“We’re behind,” he said.

Clark said her company has responded in part with job fairs and recruiters. She said employers must be ready, on the spot, to offer their top dollar and benefits.

The labor shortage is among factors pushing up costs to build housing. Brian Diedrichsen of Newstreet Properties said he’s working with the Lozier Foundation to identify ways to make housing more financially accessible to more people.

Among the ideas are homes made from giant 3D printers. Diedrichsen said he’s been following that innovation and communicating with a Texas company in the hope that it might be an option locally.

Noddle is planning to construct a commercial structure made of the cross-laminated mass timber product in downtown’s Builders District. While timber was a common material in old structures, Noddle said it’s been “fine-tuned” and making a comeback as more eco-friendly.

“It’s more sustainable,” he said. “It’s cool, and a little more responsible.”

Noddle also said legislative changes have made condominium development easier, so he anticipates more condos.

Among other notables mentioned:

Pet amenities — renters can’t get enough of them, Clark said. She said people wanted company as they worked from home during the pandemic, and now demand more pet-related frills.

Anything high-tech is in high demand as an apartment amenity, Diedrichsen said. Services and maintenance tasks that can be automated will be more integral if the labor shortage continues, speakers said.

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Reporter - Money

Cindy covers housing, commercial real estate development and more for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @cgonzalez_owh. Phone: 402-444-1224.

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