Saturday, February 11, 2006

N.O. called city of opportunity: Businessman cites services for rebuilding

Advocate staff writer

The founder of a multibillion-dollar loan and real-estate development company said Friday that there are an unbelievable number of business opportunities in south Louisiana, post-Hurricane Katrina.

Robin Arkley II, who founded Security National Holding Co., which has more than $3 billion in assets, said entrepreneurs should look at south Louisiana because of the workers moving in to rebuild New Orleans, the existing customer base and the lack of competitors. Arkley was the first speaker this spring for the Flores MBA Program at LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business.

“Just about all of the service businesses in New Orleans have been wiped out,” he said. “It’s far beyond rebuilding houses … There are a lot of opportunities.”

Arkley pointed out that Katrina has had a tremendous human toll on New Orleans and has disrupted thousands of families. But he said the storm has cleared the slate for the city and given businesses a chance to rebuild New Orleans right.

“The opportunities to build a nice business are beyond belief,” Arkley told the audience, which was made up of scores of MBA students. “The only way things could be better would be if they would make New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish tax-free zones.”

Because the process of rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina will take years, businesses can expect slow and steady growth. “That’s what businesses want, stability,” he said.

Arkley founded Security National, based in his hometown of Eureka, Calif., in 1987. The business, which specializes in buying underperforming commercial and residential real estate and loans, has an office in Baton Rouge.

The company got its start when Arkley and a friend purchased the loan portfolio for a failed bank in Anchorage, Alaska.

At the time Arkley was working as a tax attorney and unhappy with his job.

“We borrowed $1 million to buy the loans, and it cost us $1 million to get the money,” he said. “Those are the kinds of sacrifices you make when you’re starting a business.”

Security National has holdings in Louisiana, including Statewide Bank in Covington. When Security National bought Statewide Bank, it had $50 million in deposits. Today, Arkley said, the bank has $200 million.

Although he didn’t attend LSU, Arkley has developed ties with the university and has pledged more than $1.2 million to the business school.

Arkley is in the process of solidifying his Baton Rouge ties. He and his wife, Cherie, are leaving California and moving to the city.

California’s high taxes and weak business climate are causing the Arkleys to leave.

“California is a disaster of socialism,” he jokingly said.

I hear he is building a 13,000 sq ft home in Baton Rouge and that he tore down a historic home in the process.
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