SunTrust Bank’s Savannah Region President David Camden Discusses Local Market Trends and Projections

Kim Wade

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

When you live in an area with a unique economic environment, you want to keep your finger on the pulse of your community to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of your economy. That’s why David Camden, president and CEO of SunTrust Bank’s Savannah region, says he keeps a close eye on market projections in order to help his clients succeed. 

One survey Camden plays close attention to is the Middle Market Indicator, a quarterly business performance update and economic outlook survey conducted by The National Center for the Middle Market in collaboration with The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, SunTrust Banks Inc., Grant Thornton and Cisco Systems. According to Camden, the MMI surveys more than 1,000 C-suite executives at middle market firms, defined as companies with annual revenues between $10 million to $1 billion. 

Camden, a 31-year banking veteran, says he was drawn to the banking industry because he liked the idea of helping individuals and businesses achieve their financial goals. And with that mission in mind, Camden sat down with GeorgiaCEO to discuss the recent Middle Market Indicator survey results and what businesses in his local market can do to achieve their goals.

The recent Middle Market Indicator survey results show that employment grew by 4.9 percent in the third quarter. What does this represent for our overall economy?

The MMI provides a quarterly snapshot of the performance of middle market companies that play a significant role in the overall economy of the U.S. While middle market firms only represent three percent of all U.S. companies, they provide one-third of all U.S. jobs. Moreover, middle market companies are responsible for more than $10 trillion in annual revenue. and supplied. 

Do you feel this indicator is indicative of what you are seeing in our local economy? Why?

Yes. The MMI found that the employment rate grew at nearly five percent in Q3 – the highest level in nearly two years. Locally, we are seeing an increase in hiring and a stronger demand for talent across several job types and income levels. 

Where do you feel the local economy is heading and why? What are areas that need improvement and what areas do you feel are on the right track? 

We are very fortunate to work in the Southeast and live and work in Savannah. The strength of our economy is largely attributable to the demographic and geographic shift in our population as people from around the country seek to move to warmer and coastal areas. The local economy in Savannah is lifted by this broader economic driver.  

In addition, Savannah benefits greatly form the growth of our ports and related ecosystem that has so successfully been led by the Georgia Ports Authority. The team at the GPA has been innovative and forward-thinking for decades and their great work is benefiting all of us.

Furthermore, the tourism industry has responded magnificently to the growing interest in our city from around the world. I give a lot of credit to the City of Savannah and our innovative business community for their help in making Savannah a warm and hospitable place for tourists.

The leadership of the ports and tourism industries and the broad interest in the Southeast by companies and individuals provides strong growth multipliers for our region. Couple that with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and we have a winning formula for growth in Savannah.

In terms of improvement, the number one opportunity I see for our region is workforce development. There are a lot of great not-for-profit organizations and colleges and universities focused on this issue.  Their goal is to help grow the capacity of our local workforce. The more we get involved in every aspect of our community and help people discover their own talents, the stronger our community will be. We have a saying at SunTrust that is credited to one of our early founders – ‘When you build your community, you build your bank.’ I think this holds true today.

What are some of the top concerns among local executives and companies? 

The findings from the MMI mirror what we are seeing here in Savannah. For example, talent management, most commonly known as workforce growth and retention, continues to be a key area for improvement in Savannah as cited by executives. This echoes the findings of the MMI, as 39 percent of respondents identify talent management as a top internal challenge.  

In addition, with the Fed signaling an oncoming rate hike, 29 percent of respondents in the MMI indicated this would dampen their capital spending; 28 percent would expect hiring to slow as a result and 22 percent will be rethinking their plans to expand into new markets if this occurs. Savannah CEOs are a bit more optimistic based on their strong belief in the underlying strengths of our local economy.  

Health care costs also continue to be a challenge. Executives in Savannah have indicated their companies do not effectively manage associated costs. They believe this will impact their business in the next year.  

What is your advice to companies and business leaders when you hear these concerns?

Talent is the key to any organization. Although it can be and probably always will be a challenge, it is the single most important issue for executives of any company. Interest rates are likely going up. Companies need to be less focused on timing and very focused on determining their investment needs. If there is a compelling business case, strike now while capital is accessible and inexpensive. Health care is likely to remain a challenge for a long time. Staying current and frequently reviewing options should be a part of any company’s DNA.