LC Bulletin: Banking on the local economy

November 12, 2010. Retrieved online November 16, 2010 from Gabriel Vasquez, Las Cruces Bulletin

New banks look to gain market share in the Mesilla Valley

In the midst of a lethargic economic recovery and increasing regulation from the federal government, community banks are still finding their way into the Las Cruces market.

Two new financial institutions have recently expanded to Las Cruces. Century Bank, a Santa Fe-based community bank, has moved into the former Bank of the West location at 141 S. Roadrunner Parkway. Bank’34, which has been operating from a Commerce Drive office space for about a year, is wrapping up construction on its new standalone branch at 530 N. Telshor Blvd.

“This is a reflection of how well Las Cruces is doing,” said Chris Erickson, a professor of economics at New Mexico State University. “We’re a growing community and one of the only areas in the state, and in the country, that have been consistently adding jobs during the last several months.”

Bank’34 was originally founded in 1934 as the Alamogordo Federal Savings and Loan Association, focusing mostly on home loans. With its expansion to Las Cruces, the institution changed its name to Bank’34. Although the institution now offers the same traditional services as state-chartered banks, it operates as a federally chartered savings and loans association.

“In today’s world, they can both pretty much do the same things,” said Jill Gutierrez, Bank’34 Las Cruces branch market president and chief credit officer. “Years ago, savings and loans did mainly mortgages, CDs and savings accounts, but today, we can offer individual checking accounts, commercial checking accounts and traditional loan products that other banks offer. That’s why we call ourselves a bank.”

Gutierrez said the bank board of directors chose Las Cruces to expand because “it’s a growing and healthy community.” Other factors involved in that decision were the proximity of the Las Cruces metro area to Alamogordo, board members’ close ties to the business community in Las Cruces, and because, as Gutierrez said, “the economy in Las Cruces is just stronger than in Alamogordo.”

“Right now we don’t have any specific plans to expand further, but we do intend to grow– controlled growth, though,” she said. “We’re careful with our choices, and it’s true that in a tough economy, a lot of banks are not able to expand unless they have really strong capital. Our bank is very well-capitalized, and that has allowed us to grow.”

Bank’34 will open to the public Monday, Nov. 15, and will celebrate with a ribboncutting ceremony. It will hold its official grand opening celebration from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 19, 2011.

Century Bank, which opened to the public Oct. 1, also is “well-capitalized” and growing in New Mexico. The community bank was founded in Santa Fe in 1887 as a mutual building and loan association.

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