Sat, April 04

Sunwest takeover of First State Bank is positive
No jobs lost in transition and no branches closed

COTTONWOOD -- The name may become Sunwest Bank or it may stay First State Bank. The transition of ownership from First State Bank to Sunwest Bank is official, but the name of the bank depends on a legal detail and will be decided soon, according to Glenn Gray, Sunwest Bank president and chief executive officer.

Lori Simmons, market president of the Cottonwood branch, says the Sunwest assumption of First State is going to be huge for Cottonwood.

"The only changes people will experience are going to be positive ones," Simmons said. "We're a community bank. We understand community banking, and people want to bank on relationships."

Gray said no jobs will be lost at the bank's five primary branches, including Cottonwood, and all branches will remain open. "It will result in job gains," he said.

Sunwest was founded in Orange County California in 1979. Gray said the bank is well capitalized and has been growing without acquisition. He said Sunwest has remained strong as a community bank because the bank did not invest in sub-prime mortgages or in speculative construction.

"We didn't take any government bailout," he said.

First State Bank opened in Cottonwood two years ago in temporary quarters on Cove Parkway. The bank moved into the remodeled Stockman's Bank about 18 months ago.

On Friday, First State was closed by the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named as Receiver. The bank opened Tuesday under the ownership of Sunwest Bank.

Depositors of First State are now depositors with Sunwest, and all deposits remain insured by the FDIC. Nothing has changed for bank customers.

Gray described Sunwest's banking philosophy as generalists. The bank specializes in small business banking with companies worth $.5 million to $50 million.

Gray said Sunwest has carved niches in two specialization areas. The first is with property management companies and homeowners/ community associations.

The second niche is in medical and health services. Sunwest provides banking services to sole practitioners as well as doctors' groups. Those services include outpatient clinics, senior living and assisted living facilities, MRI centers and home health care companies.

Simmons said bank customers have been very supportive and understanding.

Gray said there hasn't been a negative aspect to the transition.

"The only backlash we've heard from clients is 'why didn't you tell me,'" he said. "The reason," Gray said, "we couldn't."

Banking regulations prohibit any advance public notice when a financial institution is closed.

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