Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Jimmie Gooden’s rapid rise in the homebuilding ranks hasn’t kept him from appreciating his roots



LAPLACE – There are a lot of reasons that Jimmie Gooden could be puffed up with pride these days when you look at the success of the St. John builder.

Gooden came from some humble beginnings.

He was raised in a blue collar family in New Orleans, spent many days in a &#8220gangster” surrounding as he calls it, could have been influenced by two brothers who ended up serving jail time, and had what is still an additional challenge of becoming a successful businessman as a minority.

But today, Gooden stands as perhaps the fastest rising builder in the River Parish region, seeing his construction business double in each of the last four years of building new homes from Houma to Hammond to Baton Rouge.

Through it all, he sits in a beautiful, newly renovated office building in LaPlace, showing a humility not often seen among successful business people.

&#8220From the time I was 12, I knew I had a calling to do something positive in the community, and with the people I deal with,” he said. &#8220God is allowing me to bless His people through this business, and I view this all as a vessel to help people. God gets all the praise for what has happened to Gooden Homes.”

Not only has Gooden Homes begun to explode in terms of home building growth, going from 10 new homes constructed just three years ago, to a projection of 60 in 2006, but the business is being conducted entirely by referral and word of mouth.

&#8220All the homes we build are pre-solds for clients who have come to us and want us to build for them,” he explained. &#8220We built 30 homes last year, and we already have 30 going this year, probably to do 60 or more by the end of the year.”

But seeing how Gooden got to this position is more than just amazing when understanding some of the potential negative influence that was all around him as a youngster.

Through it all, it was a handful of family members who seemed to also see the potential of the youngest of six children, and continually kept helping him stay on track.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Gooden’s parents both worked full-time. His mother was a housekeeper at Dillard University and his father was a truck driver. With four older brothers and one older sister, he was the baby of the family who showed up seven years behind his nearest sibling.

&#8220I think that was part of why they always looked out for me,” he said. &#8220But when I got older, and some of them started getting in trouble, I was returning the favor and helping them out.”

He gained a great sense of pride in his work by watching his mother and father, both of whom &#8220never missed a day of work, and took pride in always doing their best. They taught me to always treat others with respect. It’s something I do to this day.”

Gooden recalls from an early age that he had a destiny to fulfill.

&#8220I remember lying on my mama’s lap when I was 12 and talking to her about nice looking houses I had seen. I always told her we should buy this one, or that one, and she always said, ‘yes, Jimmie we’ll see about that.’ I know they never had the money to do that, but she always encouraged me to think big,” he said.

He remembers many young business ventures, like holding a fair with his 9-year-old buddies who had a club they called &#8220the Cowboys. We split $30 and I even kept some of the leftover pennies until I was 18.”

His father provided a strong Christian lead, which helped him stay straight at John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans, even though there was temptation all around him.

&#8220It was funny because I could go into the worst neighborhoods and hang around with some of the worst gangsters. But I just wasn’t going to be influenced by them since I knew I had something good I had to do. And they respected me for that. When they were going to get into trouble, they’d just tell me to get out of there and go home,” he said.

This even occurred with two of his brothers getting in trouble with the law, and eventually spending time in prison.

&#8220But even my brothers tried to help me. They gave me $5 for every ‘A’ I got in school, and one of my brothers always made sure I had something to eat before school. My sister bought clothes for me so I could go to school with something nice on,” he said. &#8220But then when my brothers got out of jail, I was able to help them by giving them jobs, cars and money. And now they’re all doing OK.”

His third brother followed his lead and now works for an airline, while his sister graduated from college, proving that the influence from the parents was mostly having a positive effect.

&#8220My parents set a good example for us, but we all make our own choices when we get older,” he said. &#8220I’m just happy for all my family now since they’re doing so well.”

He was able to go to college since his mother’s job allowed any of her family to have their tuition paid, so he graduated from Dillard with a business management degree, finishing on the Dean’s List.

&#8220I was always trying some kind of business in school, anything to make money. But I was always interested in real estate from an early age. I had a cousin who bought and sold real estate, then I went to a real estate school just to learn about it when I was 18. I knew somewhere down the line I was going to get into building of some kind,” he remarked.

There was still a detour before homebuilding got him hooked, as he took a gamble on a transportation business in 1991 by buying a van for $600 when he heard there was a local opportunity. But the business struggled terribly for four years, barely staying alive until he almost got out of it in 1995.

He had married at the age of 24, and had his first son Jimmie Jr., and was on the verge of quitting the business when his perseverance paid off.

&#8220I was about to quit, but just told myself not to give up. About that time I got a call from a woman who said Plaquemines Parish needed someone to transport people. All of a sudden I won the bid, then got five other parishes to hire me. My business income tripled, and to this day I still have that business,” he said.

But the love of real estate was always there. He built his own 5,000 square foot home in River Oaks in 1998, thanks to the success of his transportation business, and with the equity in that house, got a local banker to back him on his first spec home.

&#8220I built the spec and made $10,000, and that was the start of it all,” he said.

Gooden watched his business start slowly, but take off several years ago as his reputation got around.

&#8220Our motto is to make every person know how important they are, and how much we want to help them. I think that is why we keep getting referrals,” he said.

As the business has grown, especially with the explosion in the past two years, he married for the second time in 2001 to his current wife Nashonda, and has his second son, Jhase. But just as he points much credit to the family support in the earlier years, Gooden believes his wife is the key to the success now.

&#8220It’s really true about the saying that behind every successful man is a great woman. Shonda is my Coretta Scott King. She has helped the business flourish in so many ways. When I come home and have had a tough day, she eases my mind. She is so strong, but also has brought a great business sense to our company.

&#8220Every important decision is discussed with her, and there have been many times she has just had a feeling about proposals we’ve had from people, and known they weren’t right. I listen to her since we have to trust whoever we do business with,” he explained.

He admits that he had his challenge as a minority businessman early on, but now feels he has earned the respect in the River Parishes.

&#8220I don’t know if there was a minority this visible in the River Parishes before, but I think the people here have seen my character, and that’s why I believe I have earned their respect. And I felt like I had to be successful to open the door for other blacks. Hopefully I’ve paved the way for others,” he said.

Now Gooden is moving into what will be a huge step up as a businessman, with his first residential development approved and beginning in the Baton Rouge area. It consists of an 80-home development on 23 acres.

&#8220They say that for every successful person there are 100 who helped them along the way. I know that was true for me, and now as a spiritual person, I want to live our companies slogan to take a personal interest in people. I know God had a plan for me, but if I hadn’t done right all along, I wouldn’t have gotten these opportunities. You just have to keep God first in everything, and this is how He can bless you,” Gooden added.