The military real estate market is marching forward. 

From Florida to Georgia, California to Texas, military projects are being proposed, planned, and built—providing welcome work for architects, land planners, and construction firms across the country and beyond. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have all embarked on major housing upgrade programs in the past decade, creating a military housing construction boom. 

Those in the industry say assignments for the military are one of the hot sectors in the real estate market. Like Washington, D.C., they add, the military sector seems “recession proof.” 

The reason? Companies involved in military construction expect even more contract opportunities during the years ahead as the U.S. military looks more toward private development.

Even with today’s budget constraints, the U.S. Armed Forces still need office buildings, motor pools, and restaurants—all sorts of facilities on military installations, says Mike Raider, executive general manager of project management and construction for Lend Lease Public Partnerships, a developer of sustainable, mixed-use communities that works extensively through the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI), a public/private partnership program focused on improving housing conditions for service personnel.

“Today, like many organizations, the military is looking to do more with less. As a result, they are looking at lease options instead of buying,” continues Raider. “Some military units can’t get money for new development, so private entrepreneurs can fill the void. A developer contacts them and says, ‘I understand you need an office building for your officers, I’m willing to build it if you’ll lease it,’ ” Raider explains. “It could be an opportunity.”

Adds Jeff Morrow, Lend Lease program manager for construction: “The military now has to get more creative about how to maintain and build new assets for their installations around the country in the face of possible budget cuts.”

In addition, the military is stressing initiatives including sustainable retrofits, which would provide other opportunities for entrepreneurs. “The Department of Defense [DoD] is pushing green building and renovation,” says Raider. “Lend Lease did the first ‘zero energy’ homes at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and the neighborhoods we build incorporate a variety of LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certifications, photovoltaic roof mounts, solar thermal, geothermal, and other amenities.”

While there are opportunities for real estate entrepreneurs in the military housing arena, says Jim Taylor, president of the military housing business unit at Balfour Beatty construction—which has been involved with privatized military housing since 1996—there are not as many as there were a decade ago.

“If you look at the forecast for military construction today, you’d have to say it’s on a downturn,” says Taylor, “since a lot of large programs will be finishing in 2012–2013.  But there are other opportunities for real estate developers, such as sustainable renovations at military bases.”

The U.S. military is now pushing toward sustainable construction and much of it is targeted around better energy utilization. “There is a lot of discussion around ‘net zero’ building, and sustainability is the battle cry of the armed forces now, which [are] emphasizing energy construction, particularly solar,” says Taylor.

Those contemplating entering the military housing sector should do the following:

  • Team up with a partner who has previous experience. “Make sure you have a team with experience in the field,” says Taylor.
  • Attend Department of Defense construction/facilities forums and industry events.  These are often sponsored by the local entities (Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Army Corps of Engineers), but can sometimes be sponsored by the Society of American Military Engineers or similar professional organizations.
  • Contact Directorate of Contracting officers at area military installations, says Morrow, “and there are various websites to visit for information. Data from the DoD are pretty easy to find. Also, there are a number of blogs and media news releases that talk about the future development needs of the military.”