Sara Hernandez, president of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Miami and SVP of Biscayne Bank, in Miami, says investment demand for real estate in South Florida is very high.

She notes that the industrial sector is particularly prized and owners are getting creative and converting big boxes to attract up and coming users such as breweries and fitness clubs, for example.

Hernandez offers an in-depth look at some of the trends in the investment market and issues affecting women in the real estate industry and how CREW Miami is looking to advance women professionally and create a climate for positive change. What big-picture trends are you seeing in commercial lending this year in South Florida?

 Hernandez: South Florida is an attractive market for both domestic and foreign entities looking to invest. Investors are buying properties to hold for the long haul, instead of the trend we were seeing in years past of investors purchasing properties and flipping them in short time. Another trend we’re seeing is heightened interest in the multi-family and industrial commercial real estate sectors, both fueled by a steady pace in population growth, particularly in urban areas. In Miami-Dade alone, the industrial market continues to outperform most predictions. For instance, the market is seeing larger than usual warehouse requirements in a highly land-constrained market. Pointing to this, 92 deals over 100,000 square feet have been closed in the past seven years, according to JLL’s Q1 2018 Miami-Dade Industrial Insight Report. Also, because industrial space is often more cost-effective to lease, users are getting creative and often transforming these big boxes to house unique concepts such as breweries, fitness clubs and indoor entertainment centers. What are some changes in regulatory compliance you’re seeing that are impacting community banks?

 Hernandez: Just last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a new bill that would push back the Dodd-Frank Act. This new bill would ease regulations for small and regional banks by increasing the asset threshold for application of prudential standards, stress test requirements and mandatory risk committees. There’s a feeling of more flexibility in the decision making that will positively impact the local business landscape and support community banking. At Biscayne Bank, I spend time understanding our clients’ business objectives to identify the right type of loan to meet their needs. That customized approach to banking is an area that community banks continue to excel at in comparison to some of the larger banking institutions. As CREW Miami’s president, what are some of the initiatives you are driving on behalf of the organization?

 Hernandez: With over 10,000 members globally and more than 190 members in our Miami-Dade chapter alone, our main goal at CREW Network is to transform the commercial real estate industry by advancing women professionally. At a local level, my presidency is focused on showcasing more female business leaders in our monthly luncheon programs and bringing to the forefront the most critical issues women in the industry face today to spark a dialogue and help find solutions. For instance, CREW Miami recently hosted a panel comprised of leading women in the industry, who discussed topics such as gender-based compensation disparities, gave advice to help women advance their careers, and offered tips to tackle work-life challenges. Also, this June, the organization will host Dr. Jason A. Shapiro, medical director of Tribeca MedAesthetics, who will speak to our members about women’s nutrition and health, since, as studies often show, women spend so much time taking care of others they can often forget to take care of themselves.

Editor’s Note: The CREW Miami June meeting is scheduled for today (June 20) and will be held at Carlton Fields, 100 S. E. Second St., Suite 4200 in Miami and will begin at noon and end at 1:30 p.m.

Women empowering women is another important initiative CREW Miami is focusing on through mentorship partnerships with local universities, arranging smaller events where members can develop their networking and deal-asking skills, and even within our own organization, we are grooming young leaders to take on leadership roles. As part of this initiative, we are creating the “Road to Leadership in CREW” course where emerging professionals will be paired with past CREW Miami leaders who will provide mentorship and guidance to help them assume board and chair positions within the organization. With the treatment of women in the workplace a topic dominating national headlines, how is CREW Miami tackling this as an organization in support of its mission to advocate for women in CRE?

 Hernandez: Gender bias remains a significant issue in the commercial real estate industry. About 65% of the respondents (male and female) in CREW Network’s 2016 industry research survey reported that they had personally experienced or observed instances of gender bias against women in the industry in the last five years. As an organization, we are providing business networking, industry training, and leadership opportunities to help women advance in their careers. Across CREW Network, the group is advocating for women by bringing employers to the table to ensure they are tackling this bias and putting HR programs in place to help eliminate it. It’s imperative for companies to be honest about unconscious bias in their employee hiring, promoting and assigning of challenging projects. Both men and women leaders should also make mentoring and sponsorship of women a priority in their organizations. What was the best lesson you learned from starting your own company?

 Hernandez: When I started my own mortgage company focusing on commercial and residential mortgage lending over 25 years ago, it taught me a lot about the importance of building a team whose members complement each other to achieve the firm’s full potential. Through this experience of being a business owner, the most helpful lesson I learned was to always make a significant investment in the appropriate human capital. Often, entrepreneurs tend to want to hire people like themselves, who share similar traits, characteristics and business philosophies. Over time, as I grew my business, I found it worked more in my favor to hire talent that excelled in the areas that I didn’t—a lesson I often share with my clients at the bank today. It’s important to have partners or top-level talent with the skill set that you lack, yet need, to successfully run a business. There’s tremendous power in diversity as long as the goals are aligned.