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Robert Leard

ALAN TURNER — A strong dash of optimism

ALAN TURNER

One can certainly find many opinions about the future of Jackson, and many of these are not exactly what we might think of a “sanguine.” However, there are others who are actually positive about some of the things going on in Jackson and Mississippi as a whole. One of those is newly appointed Regions Bank executive Robert Leard, who has recently assumed the leadership role for Regions operations in the metro Jackson area.

In a recent conversation, Robert told me he is optimistic about some of the developments he sees in Jackson at present.

“We’re seeing some exciting trends in Jackson these days,” he said, pointing to the new retail and commercial development that have been ongoing in the city over the past few years.

I asked him if he agreed with many government and business leaders who have told me through the years that “as Jackson goes, so goes Mississippi”.

“I do agree,” he said. “It’s in the best interests of all Mississippians that we have a healthy and vibrant state capital, and that means that we all need to be supportive and get involved to the best of our ability.” To that end, he is active in community affairs and support, and feels positive that he is working to make a difference.

While recently promoted to head Jackson operations, he has worked with Regions for most of his career. Born in Hattiesburg, he grew up in Natchez, graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, and then worked for Trustmark for 7 years before moving over to AmSouth Bank in 1995 and then on to Regions.

I asked him how he felt about Mississippi’s economy in general.

“I think we have a healthy and growing economy in Mississippi,” he said. “There are a lot of great opportunities for business in our state, and we do have a strong pro-business environment here.”

And what does he see as the major challenges we face?

“From my perspective, one of the most important areas we need to address is workforce readiness…..this is a continuing challenge of building a quality workforce to meet the needs of today’s businesses,” he said.

He sees a number of encouraging signs in that regard, with some of the various workplace readiness programs and initiatives going on in Mississippi.

“I think we can continue to build a strong technology sector,” he said. “Obviously, this requires that we develop a work force that is ready for those kinds of high paying jobs.”

Robert is also optimistic about manufacturing in Mississippi. He feels that the onshoring movement that is gaining some steam at present can well benefit Mississippi, as we can offer a labor force “with a strong work ethic.” He points to Nissan and Toyota as great examples of how that synergy works for all.

And how about banking? I asked him if he felt the regulatory environment for banks and financial institutions has improved.

“I think it is definitely improving,” he said. “That is very important for the health of regional banks in general.”

I also asked him about the prognosis for further interest rate increases this year.

“Based on what I’m seeing, I think the probability for at least one increase is probably about 90 precent,” he said. “Of course, that also would point to an economy that is growing stronger, so it’s not all bad.”

Regions is the largest bank in Mississippi. I asked Robert how the bank plans to grow in the coming year.

“We’re more focused on organic growth at present,” he said. “Our goal and mission is always to build and maintain great relationships with our customers and the communities we serve, and to be as strong a bank as we can be.”

He told me he feels Regions is well positioned to weather any potential economic downturns or bumps in the road. I asked him if he felt the so-called tariff wars presented any risk for business in Mississippi.

“We’re keeping a close eye on that whole situation, and carefully monitoring the potential risks. I think we’ll know more in the coming months,” he said.

Robert is excited with his new role at Regions, and said he is “really looking forward to leading our teams in the Jackson metro area.”

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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