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The Interview: Dianna Wilhelm

Dianna Wilhelm, a developer based in Annapolis Junction, was elected this month to head the Maryland chapter of NAIOP, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

Wilhelm serves as president of Wilhelm Business Enterprises, a development company she owns with her husband, Wayne Wilhelm, that builds warehouses, "flex" structures and office buildings. The couple also runs Wilhelm Commercial Builders, a 110-employee commercial construction company that specializes in high-security office buildings.

A longtime — and active — member of the trade group for developers, investors and others in commercial real estate, Wilhelm says she has seen communication between real estate businesses and elected officials begin to open up. And that's paying off for the industry, she says.

As the state chapter's new president, Wilhelm plans to focus on three key areas: tracking and having a voice in state legislative proposals, planning programs for members, and increasing opportunities for networking within the profession. The growing chapter now has more than 340 members, including developers, brokers, lenders, engineers and architects.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Wilhelm talked about the commercial real estate market and her goals for the trade group in 2012.

What is the role of a group such as NAIOP?

Staying involved on the legislative issues for the real estate community and serving as a networking base for the developers and all the businesses associated with real estate.

We like to make sure that the elected officials are educated to the processes that we deal with on a daily basis and make sure there's an awareness of that.

What are some of the issues you expect to tackle in this General Assembly session?

Environmental issues, land-use regulations, taxes, and fees and permitting — those are the major ones we've been dealing with in recent years. What we've been working on [is gaining] an understanding of PlanMaryland [Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to coordinate long-term planning between the state and localities to meet "smart growth" goals] and what is being implemented, and making sure we understand the regulations and what's being called for. We're still reading through the details of that. We did have a lot of people research it, and that's one of the issues where we feel like things are being implemented without an understanding [by politicians] of how they are going to work.

In recent years, we've looked at hundreds of bills and actively followed 80 some bills. We expect to look at the same number this upcoming session.

What's the biggest challenge ahead for the commercial real estate industry?

The uncertainty [in the economy] is a challenge, what's going to happen with the credit available [for projects], and being an election year, you feel nothing is going to move quickly. We're in a recovery mode. Another challenge is making sure the values of real estate can sustain the slow recovery.

What are your expectations for the coming year for the commercial real estate market?

The commercial market lags behind the residential market for about 18 months, so in tracking that we know we're still lagging behind for another year and a half. The expectation is we will continue to grow slowly and recover over the next two years. We're seeing some positive trending now, a spark in some retail, though not as much movement in the industrial area. We do see some movement in the office area, with lower vacancy rates.

How about new construction? Is demand picking up?

The positive thing is cybersecurity and the location we're in. We have seen some positive movement for construction in the defense arena. Developers in our area are moving more toward the defense projects. We're seeing a lot of work come out of the Army Corps of Engineers over the next year, so there is still money being spent in the marketplace.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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