Community health

guest commentary by Sam T. Sicard, president and CEO, First National Bank of Fort Smith

Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

Many people in our community ask me a common question: “How is business?”

Usually I give a very simple response: “OK.” However, I’ve begun to realize the reason I am asked so often is people understand that how well a local bank is doing is a good economic indicator on how the local economy is doing. To give our local citizens a better answer, I was asked to provide a commentary to elaborate more on my response.

I’ll start with some positives. Thanks to a very loyal customer base made up of hard-working families who have character, are responsible enough to live within their means and are committed to meeting their obligations, our bank holding company, First Bank Corp., has been and continues to be profitable and well-capitalized. In addition, we have seen a steady increase in the number of checking account holders over the last several years. The latest FDIC deposit report indicated that our bank holding company increased market share to 27.57% in the Fort Smith metro area as of June 30, 2012, which has steadily increased every year from 25.86% in 2008.

Unfortunately, our growth in deposit market share has not resulted in strong growth in deposits, because there has been very little growth in our market’s deposit base over the last four years. Deposits held by banks with physical locations in our MSA has increased by only 7.2% over the last four years, which is less than aggregate inflation over that same period.

I don’t think this shocks anyone. If our region is not experiencing job growth, local businesses like ours that are dependent on the local economy will struggle to grow as well. This isn’t good for our bank, our customers or our competitors.

Knowing this, it is imperative that I and every other leader in our community do everything we can to try and grow our economy. Our businesses won’t be successful unless this community is successful — period. Not only that, but I have a personal obligation to do everything I can to help this community prosper because this community has been incredibly good to our bank and to my family.

There are no quick fixes, unfortunately, and we can’t snap our fingers and have a thriving local economy in a few weeks, or even in a few months. Realistically, we have some huge challenges. Many of these challenges we don’t control, such as a dysfunctional federal government that won’t make the responsible, hard decisions to live within its means. However, dwelling on things we don’t control is unproductive.

Despite our challenges, we have a lot of assets to be proud of.

We have a local university (University of Arkansas at Fort Smith) that is so tied to our community that it has local economic development as part of its mission statement. We have excellent public and private schools that are committed to our children’s education and success. We have a revitalized Downtown with a rich history to be proud of. We have excellent roads to be proud of. We have a work ethic to be proud of and we have philanthropic values to be proud of.

Recently, I was asked to chair the newly formed Fort Smith Regional Council, an organization consisting of 22 local CEOs who want to move our community forward and create more opportunities for success for all of our local families and businesses. While our task is daunting, I want you to know I am extremely proud to serve with these 22 men and women who love this community and want to serve it.

We are going to try our very best in the years to come to improve the economic vitality of the Fort Smith Region, and I have absolutely no doubt that our hearts are in the right place. Although we don’t have the financial resources that other communities may have, I believe we can offset this with our determination, dedication and drive.

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This is our community. We are here because we want to be here, because we love this community and the people in it. There are a lot of things you and I can’t control, but I believe we still control our long-term future. I also believe we have way too many assets to not be successful in the future.

If we all hold our head up high and stay proud of the community we live in, if we continue to fight for our future and the future of our children and grandchildren, I believe we will be blessed with the opportunity to pass on a community that will be even better for the next generation, and have the personal satisfaction of knowing we stood by it and supported it when our community needed us the most.

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