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Latest trend Live in cities, but work in the suburbs

Younger workers embrace reverse commute on trains

Brent Jenkins, vice president, LCOR, at the construction site of Valley & Bloom in Montclair.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Brent Jenkins has a long list of reasons to like Montclair, but here’s one you might not expect:
The opportunity it gives to companies whose employees can commute there by train — not from the state’s western suburbs — but from Hoboken, Jersey City and New York, where many of their young, talented workers make their homes.

It’s that type of benefit that Jenkins hopes to capture as his development firm, LCOR Inc., builds out 20,000 square feet of new office space in downtown Montclair. And it’s one that real estate experts say has created growing appeal for rail-served places such as Summit and even Chatham as an alternative for office tenants.

That’s right. Locations that have long benefited from an ability to send residents to the city via NJ Transit’s Midtown Direct service are now capitalizing on their ability to draw employees from big cities to their town.

Call it a reverse commute.

“It’s still all about connectivity — including public transportation,” said Jenkins, a vice president with the New York-based firm. “But what’s really evolving is how that connectivity is utilized.”

Jenkins said the locations, with vibrant, walkable downtowns, can offer 30- to 40-minute rides to Manhattan and even shorter trips to the Gold Coast. Couple that with good highway access for employees who do live in the suburbs, and you’ve got a “nexus opportunity” for the best of both worlds.

Just ask DriveWealth LLC, a financial technology firm that recently moved to downtown Chatham after outgrowing its previous office in Morristown. CEO Robert Cortright said “both the young and the old love the space,” noting that “the older guys can have a nice drive into work … (and) to grow on the younger side, and to attract talent, we’re going to obviously want to pull more from the Hoboken, New York City, Jersey City area.”

Not to mention that moving to Chatham cut the travel time for anyone commuting from those places.

“It’s not as vibrant as Morristown is, but it’s 15 minutes closer to Hoboken and New York, both by car and by train,” said Raymond Trevisan, a Chatham-based broker and managing principal with Cassidy Turley, which represented DriveWealth. “So the people who you’re trying to attract — when they’re leaving at the end of the day … are getting back to where they really want to be quicker than if they’re in Morristown.”

It’s unclear if the number of passengers with a reverse east-to-west commute has grown in recent years. An NJ Transit spokeswoman said the agency did not have data to that effect, but that it did have the capacity to accommodate demand for such a service.

One thing is clear: the office stock is limited in places such as Summit, Chatham and other places along NJ Transit’s Midtown Direct service lines. And there’s no shortage of demand — vacancy in Summit’s 354,000-square-foot inventory is 11.2 percent, according to the brokerage firm JLL. And asking rents average about $44 per square foot — $19 more than the overall average for the northern and central New Jersey office market.

Joshua Burd

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