DALLAS -- First Southwest Co. has landed its first client outside Texas since a local investment group took control of the state's leading financial advisory firm a year ago.

Officials at the firm say they have been hired by Broward County, Fla., the act as adviser on a proposed $155 million refunding of airport revenue bonds by next summer.

Fred McClure, managing director at the Dallas-based firm, said the contract is only for one bond issue but represents a first step into the busy Florida bond market.

"As we look at out-of-state opportunities, where we have some expertise like with airports, we are happy to export that," McClure said.

It is not the first time the firm has acted as financial adviser outside Texas.

First Southwest previously maintained clients in Alaska and has helped with airport deals from Guam to Nashville to New York State.

However, the contract with Broward County represents the first success since a local investment group bought control of the closely held firm in October 1991 with plans to expand its business in Texas, while taking the First Southwest reputation elsewhere.

McClure said the firm has been pursuing advisory roles across the nation, but said the firm is not yet ready to open branch offices in Florida or any other state.

He said the firm would want to have more than a dozen clients in a region before making that move, adding: "I don't know when that critical mass might be reached."

Florida bond dealers contacted said they were not aware of First Southwest pursuing other transactions in the state.

"We haven't seen any of their footprints in the sand," said a senior banker at a Florida-based firm. "Targeting certain kinds of deals might be smart, but I don't think it would be wise to open an office here because there are already too many bankers now."

In the past year, the firm has branched more into bond underwriting and corporate finance.

The new owner's decision to expand business lines prompted several longtime investment bankers to join competing brokerages.

Those departures cost the firm several lesser-known clients and one of its blue-chip contracts when Austin, Tex., officials decided to hire Public Financial Management Inc. The Philadelphia-based firm had recently opened a Texas office headed by a former First Southwest official.

Still, the diversification has not yet affected First Southwest's strong rankings as a financial adviser.

As of this week, the firm ranks No. 1 in Texas this year with 182 deals totaling #4.23 billion in volume, or 28.9% of the market. Even though First Southwest has not completed any deals outside the state, it also ranks sixth nationally as an adviser, according to Securities Data Co.

Beyond the firm's national standing, McClure said Broward County commissioners chose the firm because of its experience with airport financings. He noted that the firm has been financial adviser from the beginning for the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and the Perot family's Alliance Airport.

Phillip Allen, director of finance and administration for Broward County, said the firm's experience with airport issues was key in the decision to choose it over 12 other applicants. Other finalists were Lazard Freres & Co. and Artemis Capital Group Inc.

"We have a very open and competitive process and that's why someone like First Southwest can make an appearance in Broward County before they do anywhere else in Florida," Allen said.

Allen cited the example of Dillon, Read & Co., a Wall Street firm with major Texas operations, as an underwriter that got an introduction to the Florida market through the county.

McClure expects Broward County to complete a refinancing by next summer, saying that by then a current refunding could be accomplished because the airport bonds will reach their first call in October.

Officials are also studying the possibility of a synthetic refunding similar to the forward interest rate swap structured for the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport last year.

"We are looking at several options," he said.

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