It's fitting that Alan Sims, DeSoto County President of Southern Bancorp headquartered in Hernando majored in architecture because the licensed commercial residential building contractor and current banking official is keen on building relationships as well as communities.
"I'm seeing it continue to grow," said Sims, who moved to DeSoto County in 1989 at the very beginning of the building boom in what is now Mississippi's fastest-growing county.
Sims has a background in the banking industry that stretches back more than 38 years.
Sims has been employed in the commercial banking, lending, operations and management since 1979. The Vanderbilt School of Commercial Banking graduate has been a licensed residential contractor since 1996. A Texarkana, Texas native, Sims graduated with a degree in architecture from Texas A&M.
"I did residential design right out of college," Sims said.
He and wife Denise moved to DeSoto County from the central Mississippi city of Brandon.
Sims was formerly affiliated with one of the oldest banks in Mississippi, Deposit Guaranty Bank.
Sims and his staff at Southern Bancorp are celebrating the bank's sixth anniversary in its current location. Sims has been at the helm of the Hernando branch of the Arkansas-based bank since 2007 and will observe his 10th anniversary milestone in April.
"I feel real blessed," said Sims, as natural sunlight filtered in through the bank's LEED-certified branch at McIngvale and Byhalia Road in Hernando. "DeSoto County is a great place to live and raise a family."
The couple have a son, Richard, a graduate of Harvard and University of California at Berkley Law School and a daughter, Claire, who is following in her father's footsteps by studying architecture. Claire is a student in the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University.
Sims said over the past two decades, he has watched residential growth explode and contract due to the economic recession and is pleased to discover that the building and growth expansion seems to be on the upswing yet again.
Sims recalls the hard times when he began his career as a collector, during an era when his talents as an architect weren't in demand due to the recession of the late 1970s.
"I started as a collector when interest rates were really high," Sims recalled. "I remember walking on the street and talking with people, and we couldn't believe that bread was over a dollar a loaf."
Sims said the economy gradually improved and residential home construction began to "take off," in Sims' words.
"I got my builder's license in 1995," said Sims. "I've built a lot of houses."
Sims noticed when he and his wife located in Bridgetown that there were several vacant lots that needed developing.
"I started building houses in Bridgetown," Sims said, adding that he later built homes in the Hernando Hills area. All totaled, Sims estimates that he built more than 25 houses over the years.
Sims is pleased that the building trend continues on an upward trajectory.
"Our builders are busy," Sims said. "They are building a lot of houses and are selling them pretty quickly. It's kind of like the good old days."
Sims said the quality of schools in DeSoto County continues to be a key factor.
"It's (growth) always been driven by the schools," Sims said. "They continue to get accolades and do wonderful things. Lewisburg is an excellent example of an area that is growing. I-269 is going through there. It's a bedroom community. The county-wide sewer system has also been a blessing," Sims said of the $150 million wastewater system that county leaders have championed as another major economic catalyst.
"I'm hopeful that all of the cities and the county will continue to work together on that," Sims said.
A large part of Sims' portfolio is providing affordable residential housing.
"We work with banks and developers to build low-income tax credit projects," Sims said, adding that larger commercial projects such as churches are part of his portfolio.
"After doing this for 38 years, I realize that sometimes I am a therapist," Sims said. "People come in and tell me their troubles."
It's that community aspect of banking that Sims enjoys the most.
He keeps a copy of Southern Bancorp's mission statement on his desk, which reads in part: "We keep our promises … Ideas make the difference."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.