Heartland Financial (HTLF) expanded its residential mortgage lending operations by hiring a team in the Phoenix area from recently failed Grand Canyon state thrift, First Arizona Savings. In a press release Tuesday, Iowa-based Heartland said Jeff Walton will continue to head the National Residential unit and its staff of 24 loan originators, processors, closers, secondary marketing specialists and other support staff. The financial services company said it acquired the unit to enhance its mortgage lending and build non-interest revenue. For the third quarter, Heartland earned $6.9 million, or 34 cents a share, up from $3.5 million, or 13 cents a share, a year earlier. Non-interest income for the period rose to $12.6 million from $11.9 million a year ago. Although non-interest income is down about 13.5% for the nine months ended Sept. 30. "Recent legislative changes have opened the door to new opportunities in mortgage lending for local banking companies like Heartland," according to Lynn Fuller, Heartland chairman, president and chief executive. "As non-bank competitors in this space are beginning to disappear, we see significant opportunity in the future by expanding residential loan origination as a gateway retail product and a strategic line of business." Homes sales in the Phoenix area have plummeted this year with another nearly 25% drop in October, to the lowest level in 15 years, according to MDA DataQuick. Write to Jason Philyaw.