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Tuesday, 15 May 2012 10:31

WM Community Bank opens in downtown GR

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WM Community Bank opens in downtown GR Courtesy photo
GRAND RAPIDS — The opening of a downtown Grand Rapids office reflects a new growth strategy that will see West Michigan Community Bank further expand its branch network in the next few years.

New locations are possible for the small Hudsonville-based bank in both the Holland area and along the M-6 and M-21 corridors in southern Kent County, President and CEO Phil Koning said.

"We want to build out the franchise," Koning said. "We'll concentrate on Holland and Grand Rapids, which are two markets that have the most potential for growth."

New branch development will likely first occur south of Grand Rapids, an area "that fits our business plan better," he said. Byron Center, Grandville, Wyoming and Caledonia are "where we see our long-term market," Koning said.

Leading West Michigan Community Bank in that direction is the new downtown Grand Rapids branch office, which opened late last month in the Waters Building at Ottawa Avenue and Lyon Street. The new location represents the bank's first venture into Kent County.

The bank opened the downtown location to begin tapping the market, which is by far the largest in West Michigan, and to become a larger player in the region.

"You have to participate in the Grand Rapids market to be considered 'West Michigan,'" Koning said. "Grand Rapids and Kent County are a great market with lots of opportunity. Being downtown gives us a base to work from as we continue to expand into the greater Grand Rapids market."

Operating under ownership that acquired it a little more than a year ago, the bank seeks "slow and steady growth" in the long run, Koning said. Taking a more aggressive market posture, however, could generate strong year-to-year growth rates in the double digits at the onset.

At $121 million in assets, West Michigan Community Bank has plenty of growth potential, Koning said. He sees opportunity as businesses that had their credit cancelled or curtailed during the recession now shop around for a bank as the economy recovers.

"Given our footprint and what's happening in our footprint, we expect to see good, steady growth" early on, Koning said. "On the front end, we'll probably grow a pretty good amount. It's a numbers game."

West Michigan Community Bank now has six locations, including the downtown Grand Rapids office and a branch in Zeeland that opened in February.

The bank pursues a more aggressive growth strategy under the ownership of six private investors who acquired it in February 2011. The investors are also principals in Bad Axe-based North Star Financial Group, which owns and operates three community banks in the Thumb Area and one in Florida.

After acquiring the bank, they recruited Koning, the former president and CEO of Macatawa Bank. Koning led the Holland-based Macatawa Bank to strong growth for several years following its 1997 formation before departing when the bank ran into trouble during the recession.

At West Michigan Community Bank, he's brought aboard a number of managers and staff that were with Macatawa during its high-growth period. In just a year, with two new locations coming online and the new growth strategy, the bank doubled its work force, including hiring three additional commercial lenders and three retail lenders.

The 35-year-old bank also had its difficulties during the recession but has posted improved results of late. Losses have declined from $8.4 million in 2008 and $3.7 million in 2009 to $880,000 in 2010 and $437,000 for 2011.

Koning attributes the 2011 net loss to the $3.1 million spent in the last year on capital expenditures to open the new locations and renovate existing branches.

"We have a lot of capital to grow and our owners are very supportive," he said.
Read 1996 times Last modified on Thursday, 02 August 2012 17:25

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