Local economy remains steady through turmoil

Published 9:44 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

With the national economy continuing to waver despite recovery efforts, the local economy in Demopolis has remained steadfast throughout the turmoil.

Gary Holemon, senior vice president for Robertson Banking Company (RBC), credits the diversity of local employers and the stability of the school system and hospital for the community’s ability to thrive economically.

“Demopolis never really booms nor does it ever bust,” said Holemon.

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Yet Demopolis has witnessed a “boom” when compared to the condition of the national economy.

“Loans have been up over the past year,” Holemon said. “We’ve seen a 14-percent increase in loans at this time, and we opened an office in Tuscaloosa that makes a fair amount of loans.”

Holemon also stated that RBC is continuing to make more homeowners’ loans on average than their “peer” banks, which are banks of similar size in communities similar to Demopolis nationwide.

“We’ve seen some interest in home-buying, but it is still somewhat harder to get a fixed-rate mortgage through mortgage companies,” said RBC chief financial officer Pete Reynolds. “Here at the bank, we are still making loans, and our credit underwriting is the same on loans as its always been.”

Reynolds emphasized that RBC has not received financial help from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or any other federal aid program.

“We are a non-participant in any government supports for financial institutions,” Reynolds said. “The only positive effect [of the federal programs] that we’ve seen is the FDIC program raising its limits to insure deposits of up to $250,000. This was initially through the end of the year, but they’ve extended it for five years, and I think this has been beneficial.”

Demopolis businesses should also expect to benefit from new banking regulations.

“[The government] is also guaranteeing non-interest accounts in full through the end of the year,” Reynolds explained. “For businesses, that is a big deal to know that these accounts are fully insured by FDIC, and there is no dollar limit on that.”

Holemon and Reynolds agree that the financial market in Demopolis is steady.

“Loan demand has been good, and will be good going forward,” Holemon said. “I think Demopolis has weathered fairly well, although the timber industry has slowed down related to the housing market.”

Yet the faltering housing market may be on the upturn as well.

“I would say since July, there have been more buyers interested in looking and there have been more sales,” said local realtor Mem Webb. “This year has been extremely slow and the market has been off its normal track. But over the last two months the market has shown signs of more buyers and sales.”

Especially with the $8,000 first-time home buyers tax credit, Webb believes buyers would benefit from purchasing homes at this time.

“Not many people seem to have taken advantage of that program, but I think buyers would most definitely benefit from it,” said Webb. “I think it’s an ideal time to be buying. It’s a buyers market out there and interest rates are near an all-time low. They won’t be at this level a year from now.”

Although the tax credit expires in November, Reynolds says RBC has only had two interested applicants.

“I think it may be making an impact on first time home buyers,” Reynolds said. “I don’t know if we’ll have a rush for applications [near November] though.”

When it comes to the housing market, Webb agrees that Demopolis has been viable when compared to the national economy.

“Demopolis doesn’t feel the highs and lows like the rest of the country. We are very fortunate that we have a great education system, diversified industry, good medical facilities, and good local and county government,” Webb said. “For those reasons, we’ve been able to weather the downturn in the market better than surrounding areas.”