Andy Montgomery seemed a fish out of the water - or desert, really - as a guest speaker at a global investor gathering in France this summer. Here was the chairman and co-founder of a small bank from California's arid Coachella Valley sharing the mike at the World Investment Conference with the likes of GE International CEO Ferdinando Beccalli-Falco and Pascal Cagni, the French head of Apple. "I was on a panel with the CEO of Siemens [France]," says Montgomery, the head of Western Community Bancshares, a two-bank holding company with $378 million of assets. "That dichotomy was unusual."

Montgomery isn't awed by the big names - his father, after all, is former Great Western Bank chief James Montgomery. But his purpose there wasn't to sell El Paseo Bank, his company's California subsidiary. He was part of an entourage of Coachella region business leaders who traveled last June to La Baule to recruit European and Asian investors for the burgeoning alternative energy businesses in their perpetually sunny and windy "Desert Empire."

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