Montana-based financial services firm Davidson Companies said this week its investment unit will open an office in downtown Baltimore focused on real estate investment banking, with the hope of creating a base from which to expand the company's East Coast presence.

Baltimore has a strong historical presence in the industry, providing the company with a deep pool of potential hires, said Keith Getter, 52, a veteran of Legg Mason and Stifel Nicolaus, who is to head the D.A. Davidson & Co. real estate group from the Baltimore office.

Getter, a Baltimore area resident since 1994, said the firm has signed a lease for 111 S. Calvert Street, for offices for about a dozen people, with a provision that allows it to grow. He said he expects to move by the end of August.

"You have a significant amount of capital markets talent basically in the Washington to Philadelphia corridor," he said. "The goal is to use this really as a magnet location to expand the company's capital markets footprint on the East Coast."

Davidson Companies, founded in 1935 and still employee-owned, has pushed to grow beyond its American West base in recent years, acquiring smaller firms in California and opening new offices, including another equity capital markets office in New York in March.

Firm leaders said D.A. Davidson, one of the four firms that make up Davidson Companies, wants to beef up its real estate offerings, in part as a response to demand from clients, who see commercial real estate as a relatively safe and reliable investment during a shaky economic period.

"D.A. Davidson has identified real estate as a key area of effort for our firm," Monte Giese, D.A. Davidson co-head of investment banking, said in a statement. "With one of the nation's largest regional retail distribution networks, a significant institutional equities platform, and our new investment banking team, we expect to be able to provide top-level service for our clients, whether they require private financing, public offerings, or advisory services."

D. A. Davidson Companies, which serves both institutional and individual investors, has about $45 billion in assets under management and administration, up from $34.5 billion in May 2013. It counted roughly 1,400 employees at the end of last year, according to its website.

Getter said the Baltimore office hopes to work with real estate investment trusts during their public stock offerings, as well as with private real estate companies looking for institutional investors. It will focus on "high-quality" companies, aiming at a national client base across all sectors in the industry, he said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the parent company. The Sun regrets the error.