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The energy was electric at the 2022 VCU Real Estate Trends Conference (RETC), presented by the VCU Kornblau Real Estate Program on Thursday, October 13 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center in downtown Richmond, Va. 

More than 1,500 industry professionals from both the academic and professional ranks, as well as from all sectors of real estate, came together to network and hear from leading experts in economic and geopolitical strategy. Not only was the conference able to return in-person after a two-year pandemic hiatus, but it also saw record attendance for the 30th anniversary.

“When I walked into this room today, I was immediately blown away and inspired,” said Naomi E. Boyd, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Business, as she greeted attendees at the start of the conference. “It is thanks to all of you—faculty, students and industry partners—that VCU Business is able to build incredible programs that continue to grow and propel us all forward.” 

The event kicked off at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast, networking and browsing amongst nearly 100 partnering sponsors this year.

Opening remarks and introductions were delivered by Dan Hargett, president of the VCU Real Estate Circle of Excellence; Rachel James, immediate past president of Rho Epsilon Professional Real Estate Fraternity; Monique Johnson, legacy sponsor from Virginia Housing and alumna of the VCU School of Business Ph.D. program; and Dean Boyd. The two keynote speakers, Suzanne Mulvee and Peter Zeihan, followed with their respective presentations.

Economic Expectations

Suzanne Mulvee is chief strategy officer at GID, a vertically integrated investor, operator, developer and fiduciary with more than $28.5 billion in assets under management, including more than 48,000 apartment units and 23 million square feet of industrial and commercial space across the United States.

Mulvee discussed the overall state of the U.S. economy today and called attention to trends that are likely to have a significant impact on the real estate industry. 

“There is a high probability we are going to experience a recession,” said Mulvee. “The question is, how badly. Commercial real estate will not be unscathed, but I do think there is some resiliency built into the market today, including where fundamentals are, where leverage is, and the secular drivers that have been fueling the cycle over the last ten years.”

Macro-trends that Mulvee is keeping a close eye on are demographic changes, Federal Reserve action, the interest rate environment, the undersupplied housing marketing and the work-from-home movement with subsequent office demand shifts. 

“Even when people are working from home at a higher level, they’re still choosing to live in urban environments,” said Mulvee. “They’re choosing to pay high rents to live in cool, urban places. That’s a trend that hasn’t settled. I don’t think cities are dead.”

Following Mulvee’s presentation was a Q&A period moderated by John B. Levy, president of John B. Levy & Co. Together, Mulvee and Levy answered questions from the audience and went into further detail about the economy and looming recession. When one question asked Mulvee how long she expects today’s high interest rates to last, she expressed skepticism about them coming down any time soon.

“We were so low for so long, that we got used to it,” said Mulvee. “We priced our risk assets off of a low interest rate environment. The longer we hold up, the more likely that pricing of those risk assets is forced to capitulate. We’ve already seen where the stock markets have gone, where the fixed income market has gone. Real estate, if interest rates hold up long enough, will be forced to fall.”

Geopolitical Tensions & Regional Opportunities

The second keynote speaker, Peter Zeihan, is a geopolitical strategist who helps people understand how the world works by combining an expert understanding of demography, economics, energy, politics, technology and security to help clients best prepare for an uncertain future.

The critically acclaimed author’s first two books — “The Accidental Superpower” and “The Absent Superpower” — have been recommended by Mitt Romney, Fareed Zakaria and Ian Bremmer. His latest book, “The End of the World is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization,” came out in June.

In his keynote, Zeihan conducted a historical analysis on globalization, demonstrating how deeply countries have become reliant upon one another since World War II.

“With globalization, our economies all of a sudden had options,” said Zeihan. “It used to be, if you didn’t have food, iron ore, coal and oil, you couldn’t develop at all. But now, you can sell something you do have, to buy something you don’t. The whole world advanced for the first time following World War II, and it generated economic growth and the fastest increase in personal income that we had ever seen.”

Thinking on a global scale, Zeihan outlined major tensions in Western Europe and Asia, demonstrating how the conflicts will continue to have an impact on the economy, resources and supply chains worldwide. He also zeroed in on the mid-Atlantic and Richmond region specifically, sharing the area’s noteworthy attributes from a business standpoint. 

“Properly done, with the right policy, this corridor is well-positioned to be one of the fastest growing manufacturing zones in the United States in the next 30 years,” said Zeihan. 

Zeihan’s Q&A session was moderated by Andy Little, chair of the RETC speaker committee. Together the duo highlighted how Virginia can meet the economic challenges of the future.

Ten-X & VCU’s Kornblau Real Estate Program: The Future of Real Estate Technology

An invitation-only luncheon panel, “The Future of Real Estate Technology,” was hosted by Ten-X following the keynote presentations. Ten-X, a division of the CoStar Group, is the world’s largest, online commercial real estate exchange. 

The event panelists were Brandon Lewe, vice president of sales at Ten-X; Greg Leffel, founder and executive director at Virginia Blockchain Council; Owen Howlett, architect at Pickard Chilton; and Alex Mejias, founder and managing attorney at James River Law. Ian Grusd, senior director at Ten-X, served as moderator.

The panel discussed a range of technologies and how they pertain to real estate today, such as cryptocurrency, blockchain, non-fungible tokens, the metaverse and the internet of things. 

Howlett concluded the event by sharing plans for the CoStar expansion in downtown Richmond — a 750,000 square foot space expected to be completed in 2024. The two-building complex will include conference space, fitness and wellness amenities, an auditorium, 50,000 square feet of green roof terraces, retail space and dining options. Howlett highlighted an array of smart building technologies in the designs, including a photovoltaic facade that will contribute to on-site energy generation.

Save the Date for 2023

The 2023 VCU Real Estate Trends Conference will take place on October 12, 2023. Conference sponsor registration will begin soon on the Trends Conference website; general registration will open in Spring 2023.

To learn about the Kornblau School of Real Estate at VCU, visit To learn more about the VCU School of Business, visit


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