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StateStreet Group quietly building on success

Jackson — Since the 1970s, the StateStreet Group, LLC, has quietly gone about its business of investing in and managing commercial and residential real estate. It has doggedly concentrated its time and resources almost exclusively on developing its portfolio of self-storage units, mobile home parks, apartments and commercial and office property in the greater Jackson area, and has conducted a minimum of advertising over the course of its history. A model for consistent, conservative business strategy and thought, the firm has stuck to what it does best, though it is now starting to look at other markets outside of the Capital City area for the first time.

“I think one of our keys to success is that we don’t overextend ourselves,” said John Ditto III, son of the company’s founder and current president of StateStreet Group. Soft-spoken and unassuming, Ditto in many ways reflects the company’s personality. Or is it the other way around?

Public/private success

The founder of StateStreet Group, Kane Ditto, is perhaps best known as the mayor of Jackson in the 1980s and 1990s. However, some may not know that he is actually from Kentucky, earned degrees from Duke University and Vanderbilt University and began his career as an attorney. He relocated to Jackson, where John was born, before moving once again to Orlando, Fla.

While in Orlando, Kane Ditto purchased a mobile home park in 1971, which in essence was the beginning of StateStreet Group. He wasn’t there long and sold the park when he left to return to Jackson. But, the park had shown consistently positive cash flow, and Kane Ditto returned to the Capital City looking for opportunities in that arena.

Kane Ditto would spend the next 18 years practicing law with the Jackson firm of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, five of those as managing partner. He was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1987 before winning the Jackson mayor’s race in 1989. He would serve as mayor until 1997.

While in the public eye, Kane Ditto was quietly building private sector success at StateStreet Group. Today, the firm holds eight mobile home parks in its portfolio. It has since branched out into apartments (its apartment and mobile home park holdings encompass more than 1,800 residential units), and self-storage (it currently holds four self-storage units). Its present commercial property contains approximately 500,000 square feet of space.

John Ditto pointed to the quality of StateStreet Group’s holdings with pride. He said its self-storage facilities are as nice as any in the state, and said the same for its mobile home parks, grouped under the banner Homewood Communities.

Its apartment portfolio includes the Vieux Carre´, which won a Mississippi Multifamily Council’s 2005 Beautification Award. (StateStreet Group also owns Fondren Hill and Capitol and Magnolia Trace.) Its commercial properties include StateStreet’s headquarters at 1501 Lakeland Drive, which also houses Nick’s restaurant and BancorpSouth, among others.

In most cases, these properties were underperforming when StateStreet Group purchased them. They have become the cornerstone of the company — “fixer-uppers.”

“We’re a value-added investor,” John Ditto said. “When we look at properties, we look for a good location with plenty of upside. Then, we add value to it. For instance, we have invested millions in the Vieux Carre´, and it maintains high occupancy today. That’s what we do — buy underperforming properties and add value to them.”

While this strategy may have been in place before John Ditto’s arrival, it has been strengthened since then due to his background. Born in Jackson, he, too, attended Vanderbilt University, and went to work in the Nashville area for a real estate brokerage firm. In 1996, he returned to Jackson where he was employed with the successful real estate investment trust EastGroup Properties. Working there for three years, John Ditto said he learned a lot from EastGroup’s way of doing business and especially from David Hoster II, the firm’s president, CEO and director.

“David never overextends,” John Ditto said. “He hasn’t tried to be the biggest. His focus is on being the best. It’s an extremely well-run company.”

After briefly relocating to Phoenix, Ariz., he moved back to Jackson after the arrival of his first child to be closer to home. (His wife is from the Memphis area.) He admitted that working in the family business was not originally in his plans, but has no regrets.

While its success has gone largely unnoticed, StateStreet Group has steadily grown over the last 35 years. Today, the company employs 35 workers, many who have been with the company for years, even decades.

John Ditto said more growth is envisioned. For the first time in its history, StateStreet is looking at properties in markets outside of Jackson such as Nashville, Memphis and along the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi. Not surprisingly, StateStreet Group is moving forward conservatively, avoiding what John Ditto refers to as “crazy real estate.”

“Out-of-state companies are overpaying for property in Mississippi. We’re not going to get caught up in that,” John Ditto said. “It’s a lot easier to buy property in your own backyard where you’re known, but we are looking for opportunities in other markets.

“We’ve added some terrific people over the last few years, and we really have some neat projects in the works. Our goal here at StateStreet is to add value to everyone’s life. It’s not just about the bottom line.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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