At 71, Bill Long is trying to do something no one else has done in North Carolina since 2009: start a new community bank. He’s a veteran banker with a lot of friends in Iredell County, where he’s lived for 30 years, mostly running a community bank now owned by FNB Corp., a Pennsylvania-based company that acquired Yadkin Financial Corp. in 2017. Long leads a five-member board for the proposed Spirit Community Bank that includes longtime Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh, who is a lawyer. Other board members include Matthew Redmond, Gloria Hager and Caroline Brown. Statesville is about 40 miles north of Charlotte.
If successful, Spirit will follow the example of Mooresville-based BlueHarbor Bank, which launched in 2007. It now has four offices, including two in Mooresville and one in in Huntersville and Statesville. Its assets totaled $179 million as of last summer and its stock-market value is around $32 million.
Long talked about his plans in an interview last week.
Why start a new bank when you are 71?
This is sort of in my blood. Our community doesn’t have what I feel is a community bank.
And all the mergers have taken away the community banks I know and loved. It’s not a good thing. I know there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are going to miss out in next few years if we don’t have one in Statesville. I just really enjoy working with new companies and smaller businesses, both retail and commercial.
Why is the timing right?
When you are the first one going out in about 10 years, you ask yourself am I right or wrong? But I think our timing is right and it looks like regulations will be lessened a little bit. A lot of people are talking about forming a bank and I think North Carolina will have three or four in the next couple years. A new bank just opened in Charleston.
Tell us about your career.
I initially worked for Northwestern Bank in North Wilkesboro, which was bought by First Union. I moved to Statesville thirty years to work for First Union. I later helped start Piedmont Bank, which was sold to Yadkin Valley Bank in 2002. I ran it until mid-2011. By then we had grown to $2.2 billion in assets with 40 or so branches.
What have you done since 2011?
I went to work for [SunEnergy1], a solar company in Mooresville that was started by Kenny Habul. I really enjoyed that and I had a three-day-a-week contract with them. But that thing took off so fast and those boys grew it so quickly that it became a bigger job. And I didn’t want to be away from home that much. They are now one of the biggest solar companies in the South.
So how did you plot the new bank?
I kept in touch with [N.C. Banking Commissioner] Ray Grace. We talked, and I worked about a year trying to get it to fruition. I’m really proud of our great local board and very experienced management team. (His former Piedmont Bank college Kristi Elder, 51, will be chief operating officer.)
How much will you raise to start the bank?
We will raise whatever the state tells us. We’re meeting with the N.C. Banking Commission in May. We will probably need to raise $20 million to $30 million. We’ve already raised $1.7 million from at-risk investors, who will get some 10-year warrants. We want to have a couple thousand investors who will buy our common stock at $10 a share.
Is Statesville a good market?
We’re in one of the fastest growing metro areas in the U.S. Statesville isn’t getting the growth like Mooresville because Charlotte is closer. But that wave will come in the next two, three or four years.
Statesville is near and dear to me. I love the people; and I want to see Statesville succeed as much as I want our bank to succeed. Without a community bank, a city doesn’t have nearly the opportunity to breed entrepreneurs.