Plug pulled on proposed Statesville bank

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Raising money for community banks in North Carolina was never a snap, but it became fairly routine as key managers of big institutions broke off to start their own lenders. The banking depression of 2007-09 changed things.

The proposed Spirit Community Bank, a Statesville startup which had hoped to raise $20 million to $30 million from more than 1,000 investors, withdrew its application with the N.C. Banking Commission on Dec. 31, an agency spokeswoman says.

Organizer Bill Long, a veteran of several N.C. banks including most recently Yadkin Valley Bank, could not be reached for comment. Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh, one of the initial organizers, declined to comment. One of Long’s initial recruits, former BB&T banker Thom Kincaid, has joined Blueharbor Bank, a Mooresville-based community bank that started in 2008.

Community banks historically benefited smaller N.C. cities by stressing personal service, more stable staffing and quicker lending decisions than their big rivals. The banks also promote local ownership.

But the small-business community that undergirded small-city community banks has eroded amid consolidation in many industries and rapid technology changes. Also, credit unions have become stronger competitors for retail customers. Meanwhile, the dominance of the biggest U.S. banks, many bailed out during the recession because of a “too big to fail” policy, increases. Last week, Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co. reported combined profit of $50 billion in 2018.

When announcing his plans last year, Bill Long told us, “Without a community bank, a city doesn’t have nearly the opportunity to breed entrepreneurs.” Blueharbor and others will have to fill that role in Statesville.

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