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CHICAGO-After more than three decades in Chicago, tenant-representation firm Howard Ecker + Co. has expanded its reach with the opening of offices in five new markets. In recent months, the company has seen the opening of offices in Miami; Detroit; Denver; Charleston, SC; and New York City.

Most recently, the firm’s Denver office opened its doors Jan. 5, and Ecker has plans to found another location in Southern California early this year.

“There had to be a real reason we’re in each of the cities and a need for tenant brokers,” Ecker tells GlobeSt.com. “We’re starting to build a national network of our own people as opposed to affiliations.”

Ecker has recruited a point person in each of the cities to open the office and oversee its growth, with eventual plans for each regional base to house a staff of up to 10 people.

“New York was first because it’s still the financial capital of the world,” Ecker says. “We feel Miami is the financial center of Latin America, and it’s only going to grow. Detroit couldn’t be in worse shape, but it’s my belief that Michigan has great incentives to move companies there and Detroit is going to have to retool, and if we get in on the ground level and understand what the city and state are willing to do, there are going to be great opportunities. Denver is the green capital of the west and has a huge energy business, and these companies moving forward are going to be the ones that grow the most percentage-wise. Charleston is growing because of the port and becoming a logistics center.”

Ecker has had a presence in Chicago real estate for four decades, and says he started his career as Cushman & Wakefield’s first employee in the city in the late-’60s. In 1975, he formed his own firm, Howard Ecker + Co., which he touts as having been the first company in Chicago devoted exclusively to commercial tenant representation. The firm merged in 1995 with Jupiter Realty Corp. to create Jupiter Realty Services, but has since broken back out into a separate entity.

This year’s economic challenges will come hand-in-hand with some of the best opportunities Ecker has seen for tenants to negotiate deals on their terms. “For landlords, this is a terrible economy, but for tenants, it’s great,” he says. “They can get a terrific lease with low rent. It’s our firm’s belief that every tenant has to hedge its business risk and building risk to meet the market risk.”

There are plans for the firm to expand next into Southern California. “There’s been very little vacancy historically, but now because of the collapse of the subprime market, there is tremendous vacancy which gives our tenants tremendous opportunities,” he says of the market. Ecker says he hopes to open an office in Orange County or Los Angeles in the coming months.

The company has also recently placed an emphasis on its green consultancy services, with the addition of global environmental specialist Claire Woolley as vice president at its Chicago office. Woolley previously served as the director of project development for the Chicago Department of Environment, and also has worked as an environmental attorney in New Zealand and London. She will provide advice to Howard Ecker + Co. clients looking to locate in a green building or for help on LEED projects, greening their operations, or information on the costs and savings involved in a green work environment.

Howard Ecker + Co. has an edge on its competition, its founder says, by exclusively focusing on the tenant’s best interests. Many larger brokerage firms serve both building owners and tenants, thus creating a conflict of interest, the firm claims. Ecker says his company’s niche is with tenants seeking 50,000 square feet or less, but that it has experience with larger deals as well.

“The big firms don’t have a lock on the big deal, but they aren’t prepared to service the smaller tenants either,” he says. “The difference is we aren’t only offering or focusing on the Merrill Lynchs and IBMs of the world, but we’re focusing on the tenants of multiple locations that average under 50,000 square feet. We don’t focus on the size, we focus on offering the tenant the highest quality of tenant broker services they can get from anyone.”

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