The top managers with Lee & Associates gathered earlier this month at the Langham hotel in Chicago’s River North neighborhood to discuss the state of the commercial real estate market and the company’s plans for the future. Jeffrey Rinkov, CEO of Lee & Associates, and Brian Tader, managing director with the company, took the time to speak with Midwest Real Estate News about the strength of the Midwest’s industrial markets, the role technology is playing in commercial real estate and the best-performing markets in the Midwest.
Midwest Real Estate News: How strong is the industrial market across the Midwest today? Brian Tader: It’s been on fire. From Southeast Wisconsin to Kankakee, the industrial market throughout the Chicago area has been amazing lately. Northwest Indiana has been strong. We are seeing the return of spec building in the Chicago area. That is a good sign, and it doesn’t look like the industrial market is going to slow any time soon. Jeffrey Rinkov: One of the core strengths of Lee & Associates has always been industrial. That certainly hasn’t changed, and we’ve benefited from the growing strength of the industrial market across the country. We’re committed, though, to all the commercial sectors, not just industrial. And we’re seeing good activity in all the sectors, from office to retail to industrial. It’s just a good time right now in the commercial real estate business.
MREN: You mentioned that Lee & Associates is committed to all the commercial sectors. That being said, what kind of growth do you expect to see in the coming years? Rinkov: We have definite plans for expansion. We do plan to open our 50th office in the Midwest later this year. There are other Midwest markets that definitely interest us. We’re looking at markets such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis, for example. These are strong markets that we think would be great ones for Lee & Associates. That’s a big part of my plans for the future. I’d like to see Lee & Associates expand from 50 offices to 65 to 70 offices.
MREN: Brian mentioned the return of spec construction in the industrial market. Are you seeing a new push from developers for spec construction in this sector? Tader: The numbers are starting to make sense for more spec construction. There isn’t a lot of industrial product out there in the Chicago market today. But the demand is high for quality industrial sites. It just makes sense that more spec construction will be coming here. Rinkov: This is an exciting time in the industrial market. As you move to the next six, 12 or 18 months, I think you’ll see even more activity in industrial. It is going to be a very good time. I’m confident about that. For a while it was hard to be a developer. Now people are ramping up their activity again.
MREN: Jeff, you’ve been in the commercial real estate business for a long time. And you’ve been at Lee & Associates for 17 years. What has kept you at the company for so long? Rinkov: Being at Lee has truly been a life-changing opportunity for me. Working at Lee has given me the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. At Lee I can attack my market. No one is micromanaging how I do things. At the same time, we have tremendous resources available to us from Lee & Associates. The quality of the professionals that work here is so high. I think that gives us an advantage.
MREN: I know that technology is an important part of your vision for the future of Lee & Associates. How important do you think tech is for the agents working at Lee? Rinkov: The agents who are in their late 20s or early 30s think this technology fell from the sky. They think it’s always been there. They think anyone who isn’t a smartphone is hopelessly behind the times. So we don’t have to sell them. But the senior agents might be a little more resistant to new technology. Our goal, though, is to use technology to better serve our clients. We don’t want to use it just because it’s cool or interesting. It has to have a real impact on the way we work with our clients. The good news is that our senior agents are more than willing to embrace technology when they see that it has a positive impact on the their efficiency.
MREN: What is it about the industrial market that you both like so much? Tader: I like the entrepreneurial nature of it. I like the fact that you are in charge of your own career and your own success. The agents who succeed are the ones who work the hardest. In that respect, it’s a business that rewards hard work and dedication. Rinkov: In a previous career, I worked for a textile manufacturer. It was a family business. I think that’s helped me to better understand the industrial side of the business, having sat in that seat. I’ve always felt comfortable in the industrial market.
MREN: Lee & Associates’ Chicago market now offers property-management services. How important has that part of the business been to the company? Tader: A few years ago we introduced property management to better service our clients. If a client had a need for property management, we were then able to offer it. We have a good group in this market offering that service. We’d like to grow that part of our office. At the end of the day, it’s about serving our clients. If we are not willing to branch out and add something like property management, there is always someone else who will.
MREN: One final question: Jeff you are a visitor to Chicago this week. What do you plan on doing while in the city, anything unusual? Rinkov: I can’t yet say if I’m going to enjoy it because I’ve never done it before, but my wife and I are going to take a Segway tour of Chicago. I’ll have to report back on whether it was a good experience or not. My wife and I are also foodies, and Chicago is a great town for that. So we do plan on eating some good food while we’re done here. I’m a runner, too, so I’m looking forward to taking some runs through downtown Chicago. And being here at this networking event, of course, is a great chance for me to network and socialize with 40 or 50 of the members of the leadership at Lee & Associates.