December 15, 2022

By Claire Curry

What would it take to build a sprawling 100-acre industrial park, including a 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center, on a former coal-mining site in Hazleton, Pennsylvania?

Sigmund Weis School of Business students tackled that question for a spring 2022 case study in a new program that prepares them to earn a commercial real estate certificate. Upon completing a series of courses and passing an exam after each, a Foundations of Real Estate certificate is awarded by the Urban Land Institute, a century-old nonprofit organization with over 45,000 land use and commercial real estate development professionals.

Juniors and seniors in the program considered zoning and regulatory issues, financing, marketing and environmental and social impact, and applied the knowledge they gained throughout the semester-long program to develop hypothetical solutions.

“We talked about the work that went into securing permissions from the local government, as well as a tax abatement for bringing jobs to an economically struggling area, and why Hazleton was a good area for the development,” explains Evan Stutzman ’23, a finance major from Hughesville, Pennsylvania. “We then crunched the numbers in terms of costs and what the project might sell for upon completion.

“In short, we went through the whole thought process of a developer when building industrial real estate.”

The case study was based on an actual development done by Hillwood, the Allentown real estate development firm where Michael Alderman ’93, P’24 serves as senior vice president of the northeast region. Alderman, who has spent much of his career in the commercial real estate field, was instrumental in bringing the certification program to the business school.

A ULI member, Alderman says the curriculum includes about 30 hours of on-demand videos supplemented by various readings. Five modules cover an overview, finance and investment, multifamily and office, the pro forma, and development, and each concludes with a test. To complement the material, he taught four in-person sessions that convened on campus on Sunday afternoons and created the case-study project.

Alderman says the case study is a great way for students to apply what they learn to a real-world situation, and to get a glimpse of the implications that extend well beyond just business.

“There are far-reaching aspects of the industry that involve political science, law, sociology and environmental issues,” he explains. “The build environment touches where we live, where we work, where we socialize and where we learn.”

Thanks to a generous gift from Roy and Barbara Kirch P’10, the program is offered at no cost to students. In addition to a certificate, students gain membership in the Urban Land Institute, which includes invitations to networking events and conferences. The school’s inaugural program drew 26 business students across all disciplines.

“What I found interesting is that some students [in the class] had already landed jobs, and they thought this certificate would be helpful and make them more valuable at their firms,” says Dean Matthew Rousu about the program’s first class. “For other students, it will be something they’ll put on their résumé and it will help them land that job.”

According to Rousu, Stutzman “set the wheels in motion” for establishing the Foundations program at the business school when he reached out and expressed his interest in learning more about commercial real estate.

Rousu then met with Alderman to explore ways of expanding the school’s real estate educational offerings. “Mike has been so generous with his time, guiding students through the projects and working with me before starting to help get us connected with the Urban Land Institute,” he says. “This program would not have happened without him.”

Stutzman became interested in commercial real estate as a sophomore when he discovered a YouTube channel about breaking into the field. “I decided I wanted to take a serious look at it as my career choice,” he says, adding that he’d like to work on an acquisitions team someday.

Having the ULI certification on Stutzman’s résumé will no doubt be to his advantage, Alderman says.