On any given summer day in southern Moore County, North Carolina, you’ll find some of the world’s best athletes teeing it up at Pinehurst Resort. With picturesque courses nestled into a charming historic village, it’s easy to see why Pinehurst has become a vibrant tourist town that’s heralded as the golf capital of the world.
But as those who venture a few miles away discover, there’s the town of Robbins, less than 30 minutes north of Pinehurst.
In its heyday, Robbins was a thriving manufacturing community known for producing textiles and furniture. But over the last 25 years, the Town slowly lost all of its major employers because of consolidations and foreign competition. One by one, businesses shut down their operations, and the economic outlook for Robbins was pretty bleak – until Steven Bean stepped in.
He grew up on a farm in Robbins and graduated from UNC in 1985, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from a four-year college.
After college, the jobs he held taught him about banking, commercial real estate, commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), and offshore outsourcing, particularly in India. In 2006, he decided to take some time off before diving into his next venture and headed home to North Carolina.
When Bean’s cousin learned he was back home visiting his parents, they got together to catch up. On that fateful day, she wooed him back to Robbins.
At the time, he wasn’t actively looking for a new project. But Bean – an innovator at heart – is always open to new opportunities. When his cousin suggested he launch a new venture in Robbins, the gears began to turn.
Small-town, rural North Carolina might have seemed like the last place to build a global real estate operation. But where others saw challenges, Bean saw opportunities. The town’s abandoned textile mills could easily be adapted as office space – and at a significantly lower cost than a traditional office building in a larger city.
Bean understood what it took to do commercial real estate analysis in the U.S. versus running an operation offshore. He knew the work ethic required to build the business was perhaps the most critical component for success.
“Our town has a great rural work ethic,” says Bean. “I realized that in Robbins, the problem wasn’t necessarily unemployment – it was underemployment. There are such high quality people here. They’ve been educated to a certain level, but the available job opportunities were below that level. They just needed an opportunity.”
The more he thought about it, the more Robbins made sense. “The next thing I know, I’m writing a business plan and pitching it to Situs, the leading trusted advisor to the global real estate industry,” says Bean.
They loved it. Bean joined Situs and a few months later, the company launched its Robbins operation.
Not long after the company opened its doors in Robbins in June 2007, the recession hit. But under Bean’s leadership, the team kept a strong base of banking clients – even as many in the industry struggled.
“We were able to sustain during a real downtime in our industry because frankly, we have great people here,” says Bean. “The people we hired learned a lot during that downturn. Today, they are leaders in our Robbins office. They are our cultural leaders, too. During that time, it wasn’t about ‘let’s just build something great.’ It was all about having a can-do attitude and surviving.”
The positive outcome proved what Bean already knew about the people of Robbins.
“The talent is here – you just need to polish it,” he says. “You need to give people specific training in your domain and create a culture that fosters learning and development.”
That’s exactly what Situs has done in Robbins. The company has partnered with area schools like UNC-Pembroke and Sandhills Community College to put young Moore County natives – many who are first-generation college students – on the path to global business careers in finance or real estate. The values they share with Situs have made them a natural fit at the company.
“Our leaders here in Robbins have worked directly with local professors to ensure that the students we hire will be plug-and-play,” says Bean. “They come to us knowing exactly how to analyze commercial real estate because we helped create the curriculum.”
Situs also offers internships and scholarships for local students, as well as grants for faculty. Investing in the community has paid dividends for Situs and helped bolster a strong talent pipeline in Moore County.
Today the company not only performs underwriting and due diligence services, but it also performs loan servicing, asset management, accounting support and other financial services for a number of global lenders and equity investors. Bean is the executive managing director of U.S. Advisory and Business Development at Situs.
Bean has developed a sustainable business model for rural America and proven that it works.
In just under a decade, the Robbins operation has grown rapidly. The building that once housed a sock factory is now home to more than 100 employees who specialize in commercial real estate analysis for global financial institutions. Perhaps even more impressive is its employee retention rate. More than half of the second group Situs hired in Robbins in 2007 is still with the company.
The job opportunities Situs has created have helped Moore County educate and retain local talent and attract more working professionals to the area. The company has also made a significant impact on the local economy.
“Steven Bean is a pioneer in rural outsourcing,” says Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress. Situs’ success story is helping to draw site selection experts to the area and has encouraged and influenced economic developers in Moore County to build on its success, he adds.
“I think we’re in the embryonic stages of creating rationale and reasons for people to consider coming to rural North Carolina,” says Corso. “The educational opportunities are here. The training opportunities are here. The talent base is here.”
Bean could have chosen anywhere in the world to set up shop with Situs – and he chose Robbins.
When asked about the impact he’s made on his hometown community, Bean’s eyes well up. He’s not in it for the accolades. He’s all heart and a champion of doing business in rural America. “I hope what we’ve done here in Robbins is a beacon for other firms that want to be able to succeed in rural America,” says Bean.
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