Idaho, a state in the midst of an economic renaissance, is experiencing a wave of bank start-ups.
Reacting in part to the acquisition of the state's lone regional bank last year, no fewer than four new banks are forming, including two in the state capital, Boise.
The proposed institutions are Idaho Independent Bank, Boise; Syringa Bank, Boise; Citizens Community Bank, Pocatello; and Magic Valley Bank, Twin Falls. If all were to raise the necessary capital to open their doors, they would boost the number of independent banks in the state to 15.
Several involved in these ventures say they are reacting to a decline in bank services to Idahoans caused by mergers. Last year, West One Bancorp, the state's solitary regional institution, was swallowed by U.S. Bancorp, Portland, Ore.
Consumers and businesses alike are concerned by the prospect of out-of- state bankers dictating policy from afar, several observers said.
"We sent out a survey to businessmen in the Pocatello area and found that there has been a real degeneration in service for small-business customers and small-business loans," said Thomas J. Holmes, a Boise attorney working with the group to form Citizens Community Bank. "We feel there is a market out there for a local bank to attract small-business customers."
Courtland D. Rounds, a banker who's working to start Idaho Independent Bank, said that the purchase of West One Bancorp "sent a lot of people here into a tailspin."
Added Larry J. Arguinchona, who is working with the Syringa Bank start- up group, "Anytime you remove the decision-making from the local community, the area is that much poorer."
While Idaho, a sparsely populated state, has never had a large number of independents, it has experienced its share of consolidation in recent years.
Barbara M. Strickfaden, executive director of the Idaho Bankers Association, said the number of independent banks has been halved over the past four years, from 22 to 11.
At the same time, the remaining institutions, benefiting from a strong economy, are enjoying double-digit asset growth, he said.
Both Boise and Pocatello are currently without a locally based bank, although Farmers and Merchants State Bank, Meridian, is based just outside Boise. The dearth of home-grown institutions hurts both communities, according to organizers, many of whom feel local businesses are served best by local banks.
Small business is the cornerstone of economic life in the Gem State. Idaho has long been seen as business-friendly and interested in economic growth.
"There's been a lot of expansion in the state and some new major industrial development," Ms. Strickfaden said. "The state is very business friendly and there's been a lot of effort to generate small- and midsize industrial development."
Of the four proposed start-ups, Idaho Independent Bank is the closest to opening. It's in the midst of capital raising and has nearly completed the process, which will generate $3.5 million. Citizens Community Bank has just begun its capital raising and has its eye on a Sept. 1 opening date.
Syringa Bank, named after Idaho's state flower, is one month into its $3.5 million capital raising and is shooting for an Oct. 1 opening date.
Magic Valley Bank is also in the process of raising $3.5 million of capital and has its sights set on opening this winter, according to a bank organizer, Ronald L. Jones.