There are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding Intel’s potential impact on Columbus-area housing.
Thousands of them, in fact.
How many of the 10,000 permanent and temporary workers initially employed at the factories will be from out of town and require housing, and how many will be from the Columbus area and already have homes?
Intel says the two semiconductor factories it plans to build in Licking County will employ about 3,000 workers when they open in 2025, with the potential of more if additional factories are built. In addition, the company estimates that 7,000 workers will be needed for the three-year construction project.
Intel also estimates that its factories will result in 10,000 indirect jobs from suppliers and services that cater to the company and its workers.
How many of those workers will be home-grown or transplants remains the huge unanswered housing question.
“We’re all curious to know more, and there are definitely some big unanswered questions,” says Jennifer Noll, associate director of community development at Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
Intel spokesperson Emily Smith says “some of those workers will come from out of state, but a great many will be filled by Ohioans already living in the area.”
If even half of Intel’s 3,000 workers come from out of town, it would be an important addition to the Columbus workforce, but not an overwhelming burden on housing in the area, which has been growing for years.
“Attracting world-class employers is not new for central Ohio, and growth isn’t new either,” says Noll. “We’ve been doing both for decades.”
Putting Intel in context
For context, the Columbus metropolitan area has more than 2.1 million residents, and grows by about 20,000 people each year, about 10,000 of them from out of town. If 1,500 new Intel workers had to find homes in central Ohio, it would require less than .2 percent of the region’s stock of about 900,000 homes.
Another way of looking at it: Last year, more than 36,000 central Ohio homes changed hands through real-estate agents, more than 10 times Intel’s entire initial workforce.
Nonetheless, experts agree that Intel will further strain an already tight Columbus-area housing market, especially in two ways: in the area near the site, and in rental housing for construction workers moving temporarily to the region for the project.
“It adds to an already growing need for housing in this market,” says Jim Marcero, Columbus division president of PulteGroup, which includes Pulte and Centex Homes. “We’ve been underbuilding for a decade. Supply was already constrained, and this certainly adds to it.”
In the long run, the indirect jobs created by Intel may turn out to be more significant than the Intel jobs themselves on area housing.
“This could end up being not only one of the largest single employers, but have the largest and broadest and deepest multiplier effect in the region, at least on par with Honda,” says Michael Wilkos, senior vice president of community impact at United Way of Central Ohio.
“We’re not talking about Amazon adding 3,000 jobs in a warehouse,” Wilkos adds. “That doesn’t have the multiplier effect and doesn’t lead to the mobility patterns of someone leaving another part of the country, or even the world, that this has. There will be people, many people, who will move from another part of the country to take a job at Intel or a supplier, and that’s why it will be different.”
Supply not keeping pace with demand
Home and apartment construction in the Columbus area has failed to keep pace with demand for several years.
Last year, about 11,000 homes and apartments were built in the Columbus area, well below what experts say the area needs.
“We need to be in the 14,000 to 17,000 range,” says Jon Melchi, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio. “Where are these new workers going to live?”
With an average pay of $135,000, Intel workers who move to the Columbus area will be in an immediate position to buy a home if they want.
Melchi says he expects those workers to focus on a 20-mile radius of the factories, which will be about a mile south of Johnstown.
“This isn’t bringing 3,000 jobs to Downtown Columbus,” he says. “But it will change the landscape of Licking County, there’s no doubt about that.”
So far, in the five months since the factories were announced, Intel’s impact on housing hasn’t been noticeable near the site.
According to the Columbus Realtors trade association, 39 homes sold in the Johnstown-Monroe School District through the first four months of the year, up from 35 the previous year.The homes sold for a median price of $330,000, up about 21 percent from $273,000 in the first four months of 2021.
In neighboring New Albany School District, prices are also up about 21 percent over last year, but sales are down nearly 30 percent. (The figures only include homes sold through the Multiple Listing Service, and do not, for example, include homes bought by the New Albany Company for the factories.)
Don’t expect to see many new housing developments, yet
While investors and developers are poking around the area, don’t expect cornfields around the Intel site to be dotted with housing developments any time soon. Subdivisions and apartment complexes require sewer and water lines (in addition to electricity and telecom service), which much of rural Licking County lacks, although some are looking to expand.
“Everybody’s very much in a wait-and-see mode,” says Melchi. “If there’s an opportunity, they’ll take the opportunity, but there’s no land rush out there.”
The biggest single challenge to housing development in the area is utility capacity, Melchi adds.
“Everybody’s looking to identify land, but the uncertainty around utilities and communities’ willingness to rezone, combined with outrageous land costs, have given people pause.”
The other big challenge in developing rural land near the Intel property is government’s ability to provide timely platting, permitting and inspection services.
“Local governments in Licking County are not staffed for the kind of development that could occur out there,” Melchi says. “This will put pressure on their staffing in a way it’s never been.”
For those reasons, builders have so far been cautious, says Marcero with Pulte Homes.
“We’re not seeing a flood of folks coming into the market yet,” he says. “The infrastructure just isn’t there today to support the growth and expansion of housing.”
Pulte is one of the few home builders now active near the site, with its 200-lot Creekside Preserve community in Johnstown. Marcero isn’t aware of any Intel employees buying yet in the community, but he says Creekside has been one of Pulte’s strongest-selling subdivisions.
“We’re transacting homes in Creekside in the mid-$400,000s to mid-$500,000s,” he says. “A year ago we would have been in the mid-$300,000s.”
In an effort to keep prices affordable, Pulte is about to start two townhome-style communities, in Westerville and on Morse Road near New Albany.
The developments are examples of alternatives to single-family homes and apartment complexes that experts say the area needs more of to support housing demands from Intel and elsewhere. Duplexes, triplexes and so forth have become “the missing middle of housing,” says Noll, with MORPC.
“These homes used to be the fabric of our neighborhood but are disappearing, and would provide a desperately needed option,” she says.
‘Any market within 20 minutes’ will feel Intel impact
Marcero says he expects demand to only increase in Johnstown and nearby with the Intel announcement.
“Any market within 20 minutes — Sunbury, Westerville, Gahanna, Pataskala, going out to Granville and Newark and Heath — all those markets will feel it,” he says.
Other experts agree that the areas most likely to see housing growth are nearby incorporated areas, both east and west of Intel.
“The areas that will see initial building will be the incorporated areas east of Intel — Heath, Hebron, Newark,” Melchi says. “They have infrastructure already in place and have shown a willingness to work with developers.”
Wilkos, with United Way, expects Intel to boost housing development to the west, along Route 161 and into the Northland neighborhood, which has added far more residents than housing over the past decade.
He thinks the Northland area will be especially attractive to construction workers looking for a place to stay convenient to Intel.
“I think Northland will be one of the most significant housing markets during the construction of Intel,” he says. “You’ll see workers from West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and elsewhere in Ohio. They’ll rent apartments and hotel rooms with a couple of friends, and on Fridays they’ll drive the two to three hours home to family.”
Construction worker housing during Intel project
Housing Intel construction workers, in fact, will provide the most immediate demand on central Ohio housing. While the majority of the estimated 7,000 construction workers for the factories are likely to come from the Columbus area, many will move to the area during the project.
How many remains a mystery. Gilbane, the construction company hired to do the excavation and site preparation work for Intel, deferred questions on out-of-town workers to Intel, which did not provide an estimate.
“If you’ve got even a couple hundred construction workers, that will absorb lots of units, and those units don’t exist now,” Wilkos says.
Workers looking for Johnstown apartments are likely to be disappointed. Managers of apartments in the community say apartments are already fully occupied.
Redwood Living has a waiting list for its 90 two-bedroom patio-style apartments in Johnstown, built in 2015.
“The Johnstown market has done extremely well for us,” says Jake Shields, director of acquisitions at Redwood Living, who says the company has been looking recently for more sites in the area and throughout Columbus.
“There’s just not a lot available right now here,” says Judi Jordan, manager of Leafy Dell Apartments in Johnstown.
“We have a waiting list,” she adds. “As soon as someone leaves, it gets filled quickly.”
Jordan says she hasn’t seen any impact from Intel yet, but expects to.
“It has not happened yet, but I’m sure it will.”