Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Small Town Setting Belies Streak of Reinvention

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Small Town Setting Belies Streak of Reinvention

Article excerpt

Willacoochee and Pearson, each in southeastern Georgia, are home to the $57.4 million-assets, two-branch The Peoples Bank. (Not to be confused with similar sounding, People's Bank of Willacoochee.)

As far as towns go, these two look pretty and unassuming, according to Chief Financial Officer Cindy Mathews. Willacoochee, the name of a town and a river that runs near the center of it, is an Indian name said to mean "home of the WildCat," according to an unofficial website for the city. It is perched near Highway 90 and the relatively new four-lane U.S. Highway 82. Nearby Pearson, which is the county seat, has two main streets, two traffic lights, a court house, and not a strip mall or big box retailer in evidence.

Each town, however, and the surrounding county of Atkinson, is characterized by a hardy sense of reinvention and self-reliance, despite a high migrant worker population and an ongoing struggle with poverty.

It's this local and striving economy that The Peoples Bank is contributing to by supporting local business.

Relying on new manufacturing

Light industry, not the traditional lure-bet and agriculture, is the area's newest growth engine. Companies launched in a period of economic redevelopment starting in 1995 include Whittley Cruisers, a division of Whittley Marine, headquartered in Australia, and Fleetwood Homes.

"The region used to be known for mobile home manufacturing as well as lumber, with four mobile home manufacturers in the area," relates Mathews. "However, the lumber plant closed and the mobile industry has shrunk to a single firm." Instead, she indicates, Atkinson County and the surrounding region counts on a spate of new industrial manufacturers, including TLC Mouldings and Willacoochee Industrial Fabrics, a plant that makes "erosion cloth," used in highway construction as well as shading fabric used in plant nurseries.

The bank, which doesn't have heavy concentrations in any one industry, has a well-balanced portfolio. "When we were examined last year, examiners looked at us closely, given our investments in industrial cloth manufacturing in particular, but we passed as far as concentrations go. The numbers were fine," says Mathews.

Behind the numbers

That's for sure. Certainly, a well-timed stock sale of banker's bank stock had something to do with it. …

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