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Mergers ‘strengthen the franchise in a logical way,’ CEO says

Tupelo — In an effort to expand its Nashville-area market presence and to gain a banking foothold in Louisiana’s capital city, Tupelo-based BancorpSouth Inc. announced definitive merger agreements with Premier Bancorp Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., and Business Holding Corp. Inc. of Baton Rouge, La.

The transactions, which require regulatory and shareholder approval, should be completed by the first quarter of 2005 and are expected to be dilutive to 2005 earnings by about 2¢ per share, according to BancorpSouth officials. Details of the agreements’ financial terms were not disclosed.

Though relatively small in size, the acquired institutions reinforce various strategic initiatives for the $10.7-billion-asset BancorpSouth which operates 247 banking and mortgage locations across the Southeast. BancorpSouth chairman and CEO Aubrey Patterson said that these contiguous-state, fill-in acquisitions “strengthen the franchise in a logical way.”

Some analysts who cover BancorpSouth said that the geographic locations were key elements in these deals, but for varying reasons.

Premier Bancorp is the holding company for Premier Bank of Brentwood, a $150.8-million asset commercial bank established in 1997. Notably, it operates two banking locations in Brentwood, an economically vibrant suburb of Nashville. Two years ago, BancorpSouth established a loan production office in Brentwood’s Maryland Farms area and has since expanded it to full-service banking.

“We have been actively seeking other banking locations in the Brentwood and Franklin areas to expand our presence in Williamson County,” said Patterson in a telephone interview with MBJ from Nashville. “This new partnership certainly accelerates our opportunity to grow in Williamson County and brings to BancorpSouth’s team a number of outstanding bankers.”

Ranked third in the United States with most growth potential and prosperity by American City Business Journals, Williamson County should provide fertile territory for BancorpSouth business development opportunities.

BancorpSouth president Jim Kelley added that Brentwood and Williamson County is a “natural growth area for BancorpSouth’s community-style of banking.”

Premier Bank chairman and CEO Jim Harris, a co-founder of the bank, said that his company’s focus on small business and residential real estate was a good match with BancorpSouth’s expertise and resources.

“BancorpSouth is a large bank, but they operate like a community bank,” Harris said during a phone interview. “They are customer focused, and we believe that joining BancorpSouth will provide our customers with even more opportunities.”

The expanded Nashville-area presence augments BancorpSouth’s Tennessee foothold. Kelley noted that BancorpSouth currently has 33 banking locations with combined deposits exceeding $1 billion in 20 Tennessee cities, primarily in Memphis, Jackson and the West Tennessee area.

Business Holding Corp. is the holding company for The Business Bank of Baton Rouge, a $163.7-million-asset commercial bank founded in 1998. Locally owned and managed, The Business Bank provides commercial banking services in East Baton Rouge Parish and contiguous communities. Again, geography was important as Baton Rouge is Louisiana’s state capital and East Baton Rouge Parish is the third-most populated parish in Louisiana. Currently, BancorpSouth has 13 banking locations in Shreveport, Bossier City, Monroe, West Monroe, Rayville and Ruston with more than $468 million in deposits.

BancorpSouth knows the Baton Rouge-area market via its insurance experience with Louisiana’s oldest and largest insurance agency. Wright & Percy Insurance, which merged with BancorpSouth Insurance Services in 2003, is headquartered in Baton Rouge, with offices in Alexandria, Lake Charles and Shreveport. Wright & Percy president Markham McKnight said that he is excited about the Business Holding Corp. merger given the synergies that can develop among mutual Louisiana customers. The Business Bank of Baton Rouge president Charles “Buddy” Roemer III — former governor of Louisiana — said that the BancorpSouth merger gives his company an opportunity to expand its business model “with the strength of an $11-billion financial institution.”

“We have experienced remarkable acceptance in this market. However, to continue to meet our customers’ expectations and expanding needs, we realized that we must join with a complete financial services company that offers expanded resources and technological capabilities,” Roemer said. “We liked the steady management style of Aubrey Patterson and his team, and we felt that there was a proven ability to work well with others.”

“We already have a significant operation in the area with Wright & Percy, but we knew from that experience that we needed the companion banking piece,” Patterson said. “We believe that the Baton Rouge market is pretty ripe for our style of banking.”

“The Business Bank of Baton Rouge has grown by providing unparalleled specialized service through professional relationships. Our partnership will enhance their ability to serve the complete needs of their customers, providing a real opportunity for both companies,” Patterson concluded.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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