With the fast-paced growth and rebuilding occurring on the Mississippi Coast, AmSouth Bank felt it was time to extend its coverage in the area. The regional bank had only one branch on the Coast, a location on Airport Road in Gulfport that opened in the 1980s. New locations had been planned for some time but Hurricane Katrina brought the need for expansion into clearer focus.
“If you’re in Mississippi, you can not ignore the Coast,” said Greg Garraway, AmSouth’s president for South Mississippi. “The dynamics of this growing area with the opportunities over the next few years look fantastic.”
After Katrina, he said the bank felt it needed to open the new locations quickly to provide services because the need is so great during the rebuilding period. Land for temporary branches was secured in proximity to where the permanent branches are to be built, and temporary branches were opened last summer in Gulfport and Biloxi using modular buildings.
“That enabled us to open a year ahead of time,” Garraway said. “We usually do that once we make a decision to go into an area. There’s no reason not to go ahead and provide services in those locations. We wanted to do that on the Coast.”
He said AmSouth is excited about being on Courthouse Road in Gulfport and on Cedar Lake Road in Biloxi, busy, growing areas of the two Harrison County cities. Permanent branches are expected to open in early 2007.
“We’re excited about being there. We made the decision because we felt we could start with these temporary locations and go from there,” Garraway said. “We will move into new buildings in close proximity and expect the transition to be seamless for our customers.”
The two temporary branches employ 35 people, all hired locally. Garraway says both locations have done well. With the increased need for housing for area residents, AmSouth is offering a lot of products structured to assist with housing and consumer purchases of items people lost in the storm. The two temporary branches are full-service offices with specialists in wealth management, consumer, small business and commercial banking and mortgage lending.
“The needs are different on the Coast now,” he said. “With the timing and dynamics of the hurricane, now and in the near future we will be making a lot of loans. Opening these two branches has certainly given us additional opportunities to serve people.”
He said the decision to open two more branches on the Coast was made before AmSouth’s recent merger with Regions Bank. That merger is now complete. The two banks are one company operating two brands which will become one brand in about a year.
“When that happens, we will have 11 locations on the Coast stretching from Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis,” Garraway said. “We will go from three branches to 11. That’s power on the Coast and it’s huge.”
The temporary branches were kicked off with grand opening block parties that were held on Saturdays. Bank employees went door-to-door in pairs handing out invitations for the Gulfport party and set up a tent at the Biloxi Seafood Festival to create awareness for the Biloxi branch party.
“These were family affairs and both events were very well attended,” Garraway said. “We’re committed to being a good neighbor on the Coast.”
He said the money machine caused the most excitement at the parties. It was a telephone booth with air blowing $1,000 worth of $1 bills. Selected participants had 15 seconds to grab as many of the bills as possible. The celebrations also featured free food, prize giveaways, face painting and a moon walk and giant slide for the kids. A 5,000-watt portable generator was given away, too. Specials on some of the bank’s products were also available.
Prior to the grand openings, bank employees participated in AmSouth’s Hello Patrol, meeting local residents and business owners and performing random acts of kindness. These acts included handing out dollar bills at a dollar store near one branch, pumping gas and buying coffee and lunches.
“We’re promoting goodwill,” Garraway said, “and things are going fantastic. People responded well to the random acts of kindness and the grand opening celebrations.”
Currently, AmSouth is a regional bank holding company with $53 billion in assets, more than 680 branch banking offices and more than 1,200 ATMs. Operations are in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee. AmSouth is a leader among regional banks in the Southeast in several key business segments, including consumer and commercial banking, small business banking, mortgage lending, equipment leasing, and trust and investment management services.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.