As published in Scotsman Guide's Commercial Edition, August 2006.
Charles Bell took over as LMLA president just a few months after Hurricane Katrina hit. Soon after the storm passed, the association focused on helping members find temporary office space and housing. A year after Katrina, with the Greater Gulf States Mortgage Convention starting Aug. 22, Bell -- owner of The Money Source in Baton Rouge, La. -- says he's optimistic about Louisiana's redevelopment.
The general perception is that Louisiana is a mess. Is it? There are things that remain unresolved, and I think that politics have played a significant role. However, I believe New Orleans and the surrounding communities are now starting to move forward. Houses that were beyond repair are being demolished. Debris is being removed. Businesses and homes are being rebuilt.
Did the association still accomplish the goals it had set before Katrina? Yes. As an association, we're still working with [the National Association of Mortgage Brokers] on the Small Business Health Insurance Act. We would like the association to provide medical insurance through a pooled resource for its members. We've also made inroads with the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions and our state legislative body. We have built a rapport with the [office's] commissioner, his staff and the Legislature to ensure that legislation does not negatively affect Louisiana's lending industry.
How have business-owners and investors responded to tax incentives offered through the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act? In affected areas, individuals and investors who would not have considered investing in commercial property before the hurricane are now pressing forward with commercial projects.
What would you like to see happen with commercial redevelopment in the region? Personally, I would like to see a thoughtful reconstruction plan for commercial redevelopment that utilizes gulf-region assets such as the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, the tourism industry, the French Quarter and of course, the Cajun-food industry. I would also recommend utilizing and enforcing newer construction codes and techniques. I believe there is tremendous potential for a "bigger and greater" Gulf States region.
How would you describe the mortgage-business outlook in Louisiana today? I would say the market here is good. After Katrina, Baton Rouge became the largest city in the state of Louisiana overnight [based on post-hurricane-evacuation estimates]. People have been able to open new businesses or relocate their business to Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles [La.] areas. Although Katrina's and [Hurricane] Rita's impact will be felt for years, opportunity is strong in the Gulf Coast.
What's your best advice for brokers doing business in the Gulf States? Make sure that they perform their due diligence on the property being financed. Understand the liability and the ongoing risk of the project, including the changing demographics of the area.
Melinda Young is an associate editor at Scotsman Guide. Reach her at (800) 297-6061 or email@example.com.