There was a time when a banking story in Fort Worth was likely to be headlined, "Showdown in Cow Town."

But now, instead of shootouts, the bank news in Forth Worth is much more likely to herald mergers and takeovers, defense spending and trade talks.

Residents of Fort Worth -- keenly aware of the international fame in which neighboring Dallas likes to bask -- are loyal to hometown banks.

"It's great area for community banking," said James L. Murray, president of $73 million-asset Camp Bowie National Bank. "We like to do business with the people we know."

Fertile Ground

To be sure, national and superregional banks also like to do business in Fort Worth, and they are buying up small banks in substantial numbers, said David Tapp, president and CEO of $440 million-asset Overton National Bank.

Comerica Inc. and Banc One Corp. are among the major banks that have bought their way into Fort Worth.

One banker, requesting anonymity, said Fort Worth will be seeing as many small-bank mergers as takeovers by national and regional banks. "There's a lot activity [in merger talks] among the small banks, but right now it's mostly tire kicking."

Positively Provincial

Big banks opening their doors in Fort Worth "are more interested in corporate real estate accounts, so we're less affected by them," said Mr. Murray. "We're provincial -- and I mean that in a positive sense -- and we're the ones supporting community endeavors."

Actually, NationsBank Corp. has started running advertisements appealing to small businesses -- often the domain of community banks. But "we're far more interested in servicing these businesses than the regionals [are]," said Mr. Murray.

Such businesses are "very healthy" in the Fort Worth area, and "they're switching to community banks," said Mr. Tapp.

And, despite layoffs at General Dynamics and other defense contractors, the Fort Worth economy "is not about to pack it in," he added.

For example, General Motors' ax did not fall on its Arlington assembly plant. The Air Force, while eliminating operations at its Carswell base, will keep the facility running for reservists. Housing starts are steady.

Down the road, moreover, Fort Worth's transportation firms, especially the Burlington Northern Railroad Co., stand to benefit if the United States ratifies the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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