Major Banker Sees Stability and Growth in Tallahassee

May 12, 2016

There's an old saying that if you want to hear mostly nice things about your town, talk to the Chamber of Commerce. But if you want brutal honesty about the state of affairs in your community - the good and the not-so-good - speak with a banker.

Hancock Bank CEO/President John Hairston

And the man who leads the $23 billion dollar Hancock and Whitney Bank organization is sharing his brutally honest take on Tallahassee.

"We have a lot of confidence in this market," said John Hairston, CEO and president of the southeast banking conglomerate. "Some economies have very steep rises and very steep falls. In Tallahassee's case, it's a very dependable, very solid growth market that posts good growth numbers year-over-year."

Hairston said the proof of that pudding was how well this area did during the Great Recession when so much of the country was seeing massive unemployment, a tsunami of foreclosures and a social fabric on the verge of total collapse.

"We all had our difficult times in the recession," he said. "But Tallahassee held up and weathered that storm exceptionally well. And I think the fact it's the seat of state government, the fact it's a very large education association town, that was a stable part of the Tallahassee economy that served it very, very well."

Meaning, Hairston said, the Capital City has those qualities most prized by bankers: predictability, certainty, and reliability.

"We look at Tallahassee as a market we can always depend on to be good and solid and steady," Hairston said. "A lot of people move to Tallahassee from surrounding communities to make their dreams come true and begin to work in business (or) go to school here and that's been a great source of balance sheet and income growth for our company. In fact, one of the best performing markets we have in the company is Tallahassee."

There are certainly areas of concern. One has been the sudden explosion of rental housing construction in the city, much of it in and around the new Collegetown district. But Hairston thinks it's not a big problem. At least, not yet.

"We don't see a huge amount of risk forming here. We may be overoptimistic, but I don't think we are and we have other markets where we're seeing those bubbles form. We have not participated in that bubble and I'm thankful for that. But I'm not terribly worried about Tallahassee. I think it's going to perform just fine."

As for the future, Hairston has a few suggestions for local movers and shakers. The first concerns his ideas for organizing an economic development entity, which it just so happens is going on in this area right now.

"What I would suggest is a very robust, credible and confident joint public/private economic development organization is a common recipe for success across all markets," he explained. "If you have government and the private sector both putting money in, it's a shared bankroll attracting the best possible talent you can have to compete with other markets, that's where you begin to see the recipe for success."

But in the push to maximize return on investment and quarterly profits, Hairston hoped Tallahassee won't sacrifice that which makes it such a special place.

"And while I know permitting may be a pain in the neck sometimes because of trees and our love to have that kind of a canopy, it's a precious commodity to be able to drive a capital city through a canopy of oak trees. Everyone doesn't have that and so being able to set aside property for job development but preserve that character of the city that you have right now, it isn't easy, but it's worthwhile preservering."

Those are a few thoughts about Tallahassee from Hancock Bank C-E-O and President John Hairston.