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11/2/2003

First Community raising its profile

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — A new look is coming to a Longmont bank — in honor of its semi-new owner.
First Community Bank is having a grand re-opening party this week to celebrate its recent $750,000 renovation and to re-introduce itself to the community.
Customers and others who remember the interior of the building at Sixth Avenue and Kimbark Street, where the bank has been since 1964, won’t recognize the place.
“Everything,” said Linda Kage, vice president and branch manager, when asked what is new. “The only thing that is the same is our vault and these two offices. They re-did the whole inside of the building.”
The customer counter in the middle of the lobby and the woodwork in front of the tellers’ area has been re-done in a southwest motif to reflect the bank’s owner, First State Bank NM.
Albuquerque-based First State Bank (N.M.), with $1.5 billion in assets, purchased First Community Industrial Bank here and in five other Colorado communities last October. First Community Industrial in Longmont dated back to 1957.
“When industrial banks first started out they were designed for blue collar workers,” said Kage, who’s been with the bank since 1979. “But we weren’t allowed to offer checking because of the charter.”
That’s all changed since First State NM made its expansion last year into Colorado.
“What’s unique about our checking account is it pays interest,” said Kage. “If you have over $600 we’ll pay you interest on your checking account.”
The four-employee bank still has its drive-through window, and familiar faces still work there, but Kage is hoping that the fact that the bank now offers checking and has a new ATM machine — to go along with its new interior — more people will be stopping in to check things out.
“The customer reaction has been fantastic. They’re able to walk in the front door and say ‘Wow,’” said Kage. “And we’ve been trying to show them what changes have been done. We’ve let them peek up front and see what’s going on.”
The acquisition of First Community Industrial’s six Colorado branches was part of a major expansion by First State Bank NM, the largest publicly held bank in New Mexico. The company also opened three branches in two Utah communities.
Key to the company’s expansion, said Linda Wedeen, senior vice president for strategic marketing, is allowing the bank’s local branches a lot of autonomy.
“What really sets us apart is we’re a community bank really in touch with our customers,” Wedeen said by phone from Albuquerque. “Everything is decided at the branch level. The branch managers are given a lot of latitude to make decisions.
“You’ll never call up and get a machine saying, ‘Punch one for this, punch two for that.’”
Kage said now that the remodel is finished, First Community has “major plans to get out into the community, and that wasn’t the case when we were an industrial bank.”