Almost a month before CB Richard Ellis and Insignia/ESG completed their merger, Jim Hughes decided to leave Insignia for rival firm Equis Corp. Hughes was the managing director of Insignia/ESG in San Diego for three years, and now runs the San Diego office of Equis, which is headquartered in Chicago and has 26 offices nationwide.

As a broker in San Diego for 14 years, Hughes has seen its market shift dramatically. San Diego's office vacancy rate as of the second quarter was 13.1%, ranking it the ninth-lowest vacancy rate out of the 50 primary markets across the U.S., according to research firm Reis Inc. NREI recently spoke with Hughes about his move and how Equis plans to capitalize on the strong San Diego market.

NREI: What prompted your move from Insignia to Equis?

Hughes: The merger with CB Richard Ellis really prompted my move, and I just liked the Equis business model better. Equis has more of an integrated team, and the focus is exclusively on corporate space users as opposed to representing both landlords and tenants. Since we don't have any landlord listings or property management contracts, I feel that we are much more objective in consulting with tenants.

NREI: You were responsible for growing the brokerage operations at Insignia. What will be your role at Equis?

Hughes: My responsibilities will be very similar at Equis, and that's part of the reason for the move as well. I am in charge of office operations as well as head of brokerage services. When I first went to Insignia's San Diego office, there was only one other person in the office. Before I left, we had secured several national accounts and had expanded the office to about 10 people. One of our goals at Equis is to double the staff within a year.

NREI: In an era of huge mergers, how do you plan to increase Equis' visibility in San Diego?

Hughes: Equis' San Diego office is fairly new and only has about four people, but we are looking at hiring some key recruits in the next six months as well as bringing aboard other mid- and senior-level brokers in San Diego to our team. Also, Equis manages a lot of large complex portfolios throughout U.S. We are the largest real estate provider to the federal government. We represent Cox Communications, Delphi, DaimlerChrysler and Xerox to name a few.

NREI: San Diego has one of the lowest office vacancy rates of any of the top markets. Why is this market so strong?

Hughes: Most of the new construction is in the suburbs, and that's where a lot of the growth has been. Since 1992, the economy has really become much more diversified. We have defense companies, communications firms, and biotech. Actually, San Diego is one of the top three cities in the United States for biotech. It is just healthier this time around.