Giving Back

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Scott Howard of Regions Bank lends his talent and vision to a city full of opportunities

howard.jpgWhen Regions Bank asked native son Scott Howard to become president of Regions Bank in New Orleans, Howard considered it an opportunity to help rebuild New Orleans. Just as easily, he could have thought of it as duty calling.

Although Howard spent more than 20 years in the banking business, he had been running his own company, Artemis Floors, a wood flooring company. Not that the city doesn’t need wood floors these days, but in Howard’s case, we need his business acumen more.

He accepted the position with Regions Bank in March partly because of a longtime fascination with the life and growth of cities, but more importantly, he felt it was time to give back to his hometown. Recently, Howard spent a few moments discussing his well-thought-out optimism for the city’s future.

What’s your current assessment of the city and the region?
It seems clear to me that our resources have been crippled in the short run by what happened, and it’s imperative that we begin to make some tough decisions about how we regroup as a city. Unfortunately, so much of our conversation is cast in racial terms. This is not a black/white thing–we need to work on this together. We want everyone back. Whether they can all be in their original neighborhoods is a planning issue that remains unresolved, and it’s desperately a problem in search of a solution. I hope that our leaders can begin to exhibit the decisiveness and leadership that we as a city need in order to begin to direct the money that’s going to be coming in here, so it’s not misspent.

What does the future hold?
I’m an optimist, and I sincerely believe that this could turn out to be a tremendous opportunity for the city. It’s obviously not something we would have wished on ourselves, but since it happened–and now we look around and see the devastation–we have the classic “opportunity out of crisis.”

With the huge amount of money, $14 billion, coming into the city and the region, it’s going to clearly jumpstart the rebuilding. That money is hugely necessary, but not a sufficient solution. The real solution is going to be in our coming together and making tough decisions.

What’s the role of Regions Bank?
Regions is currently one of the top 15 banks in the country with $85 billion in assets. In the New Orleans market, we have 28 full-service branches. Morgan Keegan, which is part of Regions, is one of the largest bond underwriters in the country, so we’re in a really great position to help provide capital through the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005. Regions Mortgage is one of the largest residential mortgage loan originators in the country. Regions is a financial powerhouse. We have a tremendous role to play in the funneling of capital into the right hands
and right projects to rebuild the city.

What kind of community involvement will Regions have?
The local effort to help people get their lives back together again is a changing field. All of us who are in a position to make decisions about how to provide grants and make an impact in the community need to go back to square one and reevaluate the whole picture. A lot of organizations are gone, and a whole new array of efforts is here. In the same way we make decisions about lending money, we have a responsibility to undertake a process to identify worthy causes. Women of the Storm is a nice example of an effort that is vital and deserves funding.