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Biloxi native wants bank to serve small business

Biloxi — Small business owners on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are about to experience courier-banking service.
To lend entrepreneurs a helping hand, First Bank and Trust of Mississippi (FBTM), the first new commercial bank in Harrison County to receive a state charter in more than eight years, will soon set up a regular route for non-cash deposits and other banking needs.

“If you think about it, most small business owners don’t have time to leave their business, or pay someone to knock off an hour of the day to take care of a deposit,” said FBTM CEO Eric C. Brown. “The courier service is our way of saying, we’ll stand in line for you.”

Local business leaders, led by Biloxi native Joseph C. Canizaro, acquired the $32-million savings bank, Central Bank for Savings, with branches in Biloxi and Winona and a loan production office in Gulfport. It was converted to a state-chartered, commercial bank now operating as FBTM, headquartered in the former Biloxi branch located on Eisenhower Drive.

“Joe saw the demand for a relationship-based, small business-focused bank on the Coast and he hired me to start up a bank or find one to buy,” said Brown. “He noticed that, as the local and national economies continued to grow, the trend in banking was to grow large, impersonal institutions through mergers and acquisitions. We intended to return banking to what it should be: community-based and customer-friendly. We were going through the process of applying to various regulators to start up a brand new bank when we found Central Bank for Savings and decided to buy it.”

In 1991, Canizaro, president and CEO of Columbus Properties, LP, a commercial real estate development company headquartered in New Orleans best known for Canal Place and other mixed-use developments, formed FBTM’s parent Firstrust Corporation, a multi-bank holding company with more than $750 million in assets and $65 million in capital. In 1998, he established Corporate Capital, LLC, a venture capital company that invests in traditional American businesses. One of its investments, Innovus Inc., operates more than 15,000 ATM locations throughout the U.S.

“The fact that we are able to open a new commercial bank on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is proof positive that our future is brighter than ever,” said Canizaro, board chairman of FBTC and Firstrust Corporation. “The Coast is strong and solid, and we want to be a successful partner in economic development as well as community development issues.”

Canizaro and Brown drew up a short list of well-known business leaders, diverse in industry and geographic location, and invited them to serve as board members. They include Mary Mahoney’s restaurant owner Bobby Mahoney of Biloxi, Gulfport-based McGuire Design & Construction president Dalton Maguire Jr., Sablich Enterprises CEO Jamie Sablich of D’Iberville, Senior Circuit Court Judge Kosta Vlahos of Gulfport, Waring Oil Company and Neill Gas Company general manager Mart Windham of Gulfport, Municipal Judge Donald Bond of Winona, and A.R. Burt Insurance Agency owner Frank Herring of Winona.

“These guys were enthusiastic about our vision,” said Brown. “They also believe that long-term relationships are more important than short-term profits. We’ll be looking for like-minded folks to add to our board over time.”

Economic drivers and major area employers — Northrop Grumman, Mississippi Power Company and Gulf Coast casinos among them — have boosted the creation of mom-and-pop businesses.

“The small middle market clients often get lost in the shuffle with the big banks,” said Brown. “Mark Twain once said that a banker is somebody who’ll loan you an umbrella on a sunny day and want it back on a rainy day. We’re not that bank. We understand working with a client through ups and downs. All businesses have cycles. A banker needs to understand a client’s business intimately to help them through those processes.”

Beginning with Mahoney, the bank is introducing board members to the community through an advertising campaign. The banking staff, whose collective experience represents nearly every bank along the Coast, is marketing to existing and former clients, following up on referrals, and creating new opportunities to introduce people to the bank.

Last month, FBTM tapped Henry Fox of Pascagoula, former director of commercial lending for Hancock Bank in Jackson County, as its chief lending officer.

Even though Brown declined to disclose financial statistics, he said the stream of deposits is steady and loan demand is extremely strong. “We’ve had a great response to our method of doing business,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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