Well, just like the Advent get tier 2 culture towers, the TEC get tier 2 trade ports. A good starting strategy if youre going eco (for me anyway) is to start with 2 Civilian labs on your homeworld. This gets you trade ports and volcanic/ice occupation tech. Get an Akkan and a few light frigates out and start expanding along the best possible trade route. Keep it to probably no more than 3 planets at first or youll get over extended. After you get a few trade ports up, get both levels of the terran planet population boost tech. This is a tier 1 and is one of the first things I get if Im playing eco.
Other things you can do, research an early civilian tech that reduces the cost of common structures (all factories, ie frigate, cap, titan; extractors), make sure you develop the populations on your planets as much as possible, and spend more time in the civilian tree than the military one.
Once you have some trade ports up, work on military for a bit so you dont get hosed by anyone. Then put up some broadcast towers. Planets fully in your culture give additional credits and resources, the closer to your home planet, the greater the increase.
The line of technologies that includes trade ports and refineries is extremely important to the TEC economy as it increases gains from trade routes and refineries. If you wind up playing very long games, the tier 8 tech 'Pervasive Economy' is a pretty awesome research as it gives you credits any time anyone in the game makes a purchase or gets income from trade.
If you want to be more specific about what he is or is not doing, or is or is not building/researching, we (the forum 'we' ) could probably be more specific. I hope this helps some.