The Sacramento, Calif., area has emerged as a hotbed for start-up banks, thanks to consolidation and the eastward movement of high-tech companies.

Three banks-Auburn National Bank in Auburn, Bank of Sacramento, and Yolo Community Bank in Woodland-have opened since February. A fourth, Silverado Bank, has approval from state regulators to open in Roseville. And the regulators say an investment group is eyeing the area as a place to set up a bank.

That is a lot of activity for a state where only 13 new banks have opened for business this year.

Why Sacramento, which until 1998 had not seen a start-up since 1985? Observers point first to consolidation. Since 1987, 16 locally owned banks have been bought up by the likes of WestAmerica Bancorp. of San Rafael, Calif.; First Banks Inc. of St. Louis; SierraWest of Truckee, Calif.; and U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis.

"When mergers occur in a strong market, new formations will follow," said Walter J. Mix 3d, commissioner of the state Department of Financial Institutions. But bank organizers appear most encouraged by the area's torrid growth.

With land and housing costs low, the Sacramento area's population has soared 7.3% and its household income has grown 22.4% since 1993, both well above the national average.

Over the same period, the state's largest and highest-profile cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have lost population, according to a recently published analysis by Salomon Smith Barney.

Meanwhile, comparatively low labor costs have attracted two Silicon Valley giants-Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.-to the Sacramento area in the last few years.

That has generated a wave of computer-related service, support, and supplier companies.

"The area has become a mecca for small business," said Bill Young, president and CEO of $175 million-asset American River Bank in Sacramento. Mr. Young has lived in the area for 25 years.

Though the names of the new banks are new, the faces-and their strategies for growth-are not.

John A. DiMichele, president and CEO of Yolo Community Bank, was the CEO of two area banks that larger institutions bought. He said his new bank is targeting businesses too small for the larger banks that have taken over the region.

"Consolidation happened so quickly that there was a strong demand for us to come back," Mr. DiMichele said.

Jeff Birkholz, executive vice president at Auburn National, said it is specializing in Small Business Administration lending. That was also the specialty at his former employer, Bank of Commerce, which was also in Auburn. Bank of Commerce was sold to ValliWide Bank in 1996.

Still, competitors say there are no guarantees that the new banks will make money.

Their leaders "are all well-established bankers in town," said James E. Culleton, president and chief operating of First Bank of California in Sacramento, "but they got their work cut out for them. It's a competitive market."

"There are too many start-ups," said American River's Mr. Young, "but I'm not losing sleep over it. Time will tell how much competition they will pose."

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