How this Titusville real estate firm will capitalize on the private aerospace boom

July 12, 2022

More than anything else, Holly Carver and Lisa Earnhardt sell Titusville.

As the commercial specialists for Rocket City Commercial, a real estate firm based in the northern Brevard County city, the pair often travel to retail or real estate conferences and pitch the city as a destination for national retail and restaurant brands, as well as development.

In the not-too-distant past, they recall often being met with resistance and reluctance.

Now, though, as the booming private aerospace industry has driven an influx of high-wage earners into the region, there’s been a sea change.

“Now our phone is ringing and people are saying ‘Tell me about Titusville,’” said Earnhardt. “People finally are catching on.”

The Titusville residents started their firm in 2019 and partnered with eXp Commercial LLC in 2021. Earnhardt brought with her a background in development and construction, including an eight-year stint with Unicorp, and Carver previously had roles as an executive for a nonprofit and a legislative aide for a county commissioner, among other jobs.
During the three years the firm has been in business, the Space Coast has seen a wave of momentum embodied by frequent launches— 31 in 2021, tying a record — and record tourism development tax collections, according to Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism.

The economic energy is rooted in booming private investment in the space industry and related enterprises, the byproduct of which has been an influx of jobs scattered throughout the region that, on average, earn$88,200 annually, according to a 2019 NASA study.

“It’s not just selling the future — it’s here,” Carver said. “The high-wage earners moving in are creating the need for more neighborhood services, housing and medical uses.” Amid that economic energy and the same in-migration patterns driving growth throughout Florida, communities like Titusville are jockeying for the new residents and the real estate opportunities that come with them. For Rocket City Commercial, what that looks like is 65 deals closed between Carver and Earnhardt in 2021. The team, which has its two commercial specialists along with two support staffers and a network of affiliates they regularly collaborate with, also has placed a particular emphasis on redevelopment of blighted and vacant properties.

For instance, Rocket City was part of the deal that brought GenH2, a company that makes infrastructure for liquid hydrogen systems, to town. The new campus for the firm at 5120 S. Washington Ave. is its global headquarters and will include at least 250 employees, but previously was vacant dating back to 2014.

In instances such as that one, the duo has helped companies navigate economic incentives available from the county — some of which Carver was part of crafting while working in the public sector.

They connected Pharmco Laboratories, which needed space to expand, with an off-market property that met its needs and kept jobs in Titusville. They’ve played roles in reinvigorating shopping centers at 1527 N. Singleton Ave. and 1528 Harrison St., leading the leasing effort for the former and brokering the sale of the latter to new ownership that refurbished the property.

Other examples include an iHop that became a medical facility, a Howard Johnson motel set to become a barbecue restaurant, and vacant land that soon will be home to, among other retailers, a Culver’s casual fast-food restaurant — another new addition to the city.

“It’s validating to know those tenants have done their homework and think this is a good market,” Carver said.

Carver said some retailers are even surprised by the success they have after they arrive in the market. As an example, an Aldi grocery store recently added 20,000 square feet to its Titusville location, thanks to strong sales and demand.

The firm also has had to, out of necessity, work in every sector of commercial real estate — from industrial to retail to multifamily and office. That, in turn, has allowed them think about not just where they can be profitable, but about what the community could use.

“We’ve got several warehouse deals in the working, leases we’re working on in retail and two properties under contract that are multifamily,” Earnhardt said. “It’s hard for us to focus on one thing, because there’s not enough of it — but there’s also such a need for all of it.”

The pair often talk as proudly about a new-to-market addition they weren’t immediately part of, but perhaps helped facilitate, as the deals that end with deposits in Rocket City’s account. That’s because the successes of rival brokers — like, say, the first Chipotle restaurant coming to town — can be used to demonstrate the market’s viability for their own deals in the offing.

As the Space Coast looks to capitalize on the wave of high-wage jobs and new residents it is attracting, those opportunities are bound to arise for Titusville and other Brevard cities. “This market was ripe for these amenities to be here — we just had to pull the pieces together of the story to make sure they would be successful,” Carver said.

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