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Bank takes on Mississippi markets de novo

SouthTrust celebrating opening of third metro area branch

Bo Bourne was working in commercial lending for Trustmark Bank when he got the opportunity to go de novo with another bank.

In the entrepreneurial spirit of de novo, the Latin term for “anew,” Birmingham-based SouthTrust Bank was entering the Jackson market without acquiring another bank, and needed someone on the front line. Working from his kitchen table, Bourne started looking for a property, hiring employees, then taking on the more ominous task of building a name for a bank that Mississippians were not familiar with. That was 1998, and four years later, the bank is celebrating the opening of a third branch in the Jackson area.

SouthTrust Bank is hosting a grand opening Nov. 12-15 for its newest location at One Jackson Place in downtown Jackson. The branch quietly opened July 15, but waited to formally announce until the branch was completely ready.

The One Jackson Place branch actually moved from its original location in the Emporium Building in downtown Jackson. That was Bourne’s first SouthTrust location in Jackson, which he set up as a loan production office. The office eventually became a branch that outgrew its space. The new One Jackson Place location is 8,300 square feet with a drive-through window that was converted from a courier driveway.

Bourne, SouthTrust’s CEO for the Jackson market, also opened a branch on Lakeland Drive in March 1999, and a Ridgeland location in September 2000. He recently closed on a property for a new branch and is in the process of closing on another property. He is also looking at two other properties in the metro area as possible branches.

SouthTrust Bank is a subsidiary of the $49.8-billion SouthTrust Corp., which is the country’s 18th largest bank holding company. Bourne was thus well-backed in setting up shop in the Jackson market, but he still had to earn the trust of commercial and individual clients who were used to doing business with some of Mississippi’s older names.

“Jackson is a highly competitive market, but at the same time customers were looking for new opportunities,” said Bourne. “It was surprising to me how many people were willing to give us a chance. People have been very gracious…giving the new kid on the block a chance.”

SouthTrust first entered Mississippi in 1994 with the acquisition of Jefferson Bank in Pascagoula, then Citizens National Bank in Ocean Springs in 1995. The Coast now has seven branches.

SouthTrust then moved northward to open two branches in Hattiesburg. Ted Webb was working as a regional credit administrator for BancorpSouth when he was hired to start the brand new Hattiesburg office in 1999. SouthTrust opened as a loan production office in Hattiesburg’s highly competitive market, then opened the market’s first branch in October 2000, followed by a second branch in July 2001.

Webb, president of SouthTrust’s Hattiesburg division, said entering a brand new market has been a challenge, but he’s relied on a core group of local businessmen to help him establish a foundation for growth.

“We’ve been very well-received,” said Webb. “Our loan growth especially is far ahead of budget projections for the first two or three years.”

Although there are no immediate plans for expansion, Webb believes there will eventually be several branches to cover the area.

Currently, Mississippi has close to 110 SouthTrust employees, including three who work for Jackson’s newly-opened SouthTrust Mortgage Co.

SouthTrust has also recently practiced de novo banking with success in the Memphis and Greenville, S.C., markets. David Oliver, who works with the bank’s corporate communications, said SouthTrust is historically very organized when it comes to building business from the ground up, with a set philosophy and sales technique for startup banks. The bank has a reputation for being high-touch — spending a lot of time with clients and pounding the pavement for business, he said.

“It’s not always necessary to acquire a bank in a market that has good potential for growth for us,” said Oliver.

SouthTrust bank looks for major urban population areas with strong economies, and SouthTrust found an attractive market in South and Central Mississippi, he said. The bank has also done its share of acquisitions, including the most recent — Landmark Bancshares Inc., the holding company for Landmark Bank, in Texas. The acquisition was SouthTrust’s third acquisition in that state in 12 months.

SouthTrust has more than 704 banking offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The company trades on the NASDAQ Stock Market under the symbol SOTR. In 2001, the corporation posted net earnings of $554.5 million, an increase of 15%. Diluted earnings were $1.61 per share, a 13% increase over the previous year.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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