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PROFILE(wilson)31 incheswithsnapshot/1stjc/mark2nd VALERIE J. NELSON Contributing Reporter Mel Wilson learned a little about seizing the day when his grandmother decided to move her family from Alabama to California in search of a better life. The five-day cross-country trip in a ’62 Chevy landed the 10-year-old boy in the Mission Hills-Pacoima area. He would come to view it as “the Promised Land” for the opportunities it offered a young African-American and his family who had fled the deeply segregated South. More than three decades later, he still sees the San Fernando Valley as a land of opportunity. His many public roles have spanned such positions as president of the United Chambers of Commerce the Valley’s chamber of chambers in 1988 to serving in an appointed position on the crisis-ridden Metropolitan Transportation Authority board since 1993. Four months ago, he merged his 10-year-old real estate and land use consulting company, Mel Wilson & Associates, with Coldwell Banker. He wanted to align his bustling independent company in Northridge with a national firm that gives his smaller enterprise of six agents staff and advertising support. Last month, he became the first non-white president of the San Fernando Valley Association of Realtors. With 6,300 members, it is the largest such association in California. Q: The theme of your inauguration as president of the Realtors’ Association was “History in the Making.” How do you feel about the pomp surrounding this achievement? A: I am the first person of color and the first black person to be president of our association in its 77-year history. I do feel good about it. I’m proud of the fact I happen to be the first. The reason I’m president is much more than my color, but it’s something to be proud of, to show young people of color that they can succeed. I have served in many capacities with other groups. I wasn’t looking for another job or title. But an overwhelming fear came over me two years ago. I saw that organized real estate wasn’t changing rapidly to meet the industry and our client’s demands. Q: Do you have a list of what you’d like the Realtors’ association to accomplish? A: First, I am focusing on dealing with the challenge of opening up what was once our proprietary jewel, the multiple listing service, to the public. Secondly, we need to adjust to the changing demographics for our market. It used to be folks who bought houses here were mostly white. It’s no longer that way. We need to educate ourselves on how to work with people of color. We as an organized trade group need to be cognizant of that change. We also are going to reach out to real estate licensees who are people of color, and encourage them to join our association and to become participants in various companies we have. I am hopeful we can tap into those licensees to get them to join up with firms throughout the Valley. Third, we need to bring our membership up to speed with the technology. Q: Is the need to be open to people of color a necessity in terms of doing business here? A: People who are good business people realize diversity is a good thing. Those who want to be successful in the real estate business are reaching out and seeing value in it. For instance, Realtors might do targeted marketing where English is a second language. Publications are printed in Farsi, Korean or Spanish, for example. We are targeting our market because those are the folks who are the first-time buyers. They are the ones fueling our markets. Of first-time home buyers in 1996, about 40 percent were people of color. Q: Will the long-term effects of the Northridge quake be mostly positive ones for the Valley? Are most of the area’s business districts bouncing back? A: The long-term effect on Northridge, particularly the business community, is actually going to be good. You know how they say, “I don’t care what you say, just get my name right”? I was in San Antonio, Texas, and I said, “I’m from Northridge.” People always respond with, “Oh, the quake.” I tell them about the weather, all the great things here. The name recognition will help us. We’ve gotten a lot of properties that have had hundreds, perhaps millions of dollars invested in them to bring them up to good standards. People who had been thinking of selling their homes or moving out of the area were able to get assistance and pump thousands of dollars into their homes. The quality of the housing stock has risen. Overall, business will benefit from that because people will stick around longer. Q: How has the Valley business landscape changed since you were president of the United Chambers of Commerce in 1988? A: I still see small business thriving. I see more businesses owned by folks of Asian descent. You can drive around and see pockets of communities, specifically Korean in Reseda, the Canoga Park area and the Northeast Valley. I see a lot of Koreans owning those liquor and mom-and-pop stores. I see more entrepreneurial immigrants coming in and buying up a lot of business opportunities. On a larger scale, in a lot of ways, we are the Silicon Valley of the South. Large regional companies are in the area, such as the high-tech area in Chatsworth. Q: What about 10 years from now? What is the business picture for the Valley of the future? A: I see a fairly diverse Valley in the types of businesses here. I see more high-paying jobs coming to the area, particularly from the entertainment and the trade-related fields. Companies that do business with other companies that are international firms will thrive. I see national and multinational firms locating in the Valley. The Valley has a fairly good stock of educated people to pull from. These things will help us sustain a strong economy for the next couple of decades. Q: Regarding your position on the MTA board, what is your reaction to the state Senate Transportation Committee’s call for an overhaul of the board? Even Mayor Riordan has said he wants an appointed board. A: We get 25 percent of all the transit dollars for the country right here at the MTA. You couple that with the politics of it all. When you put together money and politics, you are sometimes going to have controversy. In many ways, we are going to continue to be under the microscope. A lot of things we do, we do really well. Building for the future entails a lot of controversy. Do I think the MTA needs to be overhauled? Yes, we are fair game to be looked at. There ought to be a different structure on the board. Even with a new structure, we are going to have billions to deal with and the policymaking of the organization is going to be under scrutiny. Q: Do you have a grand plan for your political activism? A: I like giving my time and talent to the community. I like working in organizations that can make a difference for everyday people. That can be business groups and other types of policymaking groups. I don’t plan to be on the MTA forever. In fact, I don’t know how long I will stay. SNAPSHOT Mel Wilson Position: President, San Fernando Valley Association of Realtors; partner, Coldwell Banker, Mel Wilson & Associates Born: Boligee, Alabama, 1952 Education: Bachelor of Science, business administration, Cal State Northridge. Most admired individual: His grandmother, who was his mentor. “Very strong, deeply religious and she was a good businesswoman.” Personal: Married for 23 years, three children

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