Marquette Financial Cos., the $6 billion-asset Minneapolis holding company whose properties include eight fast-growing banks in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, has chosen a longtime Texas banker to manage its southwestern operations.

Already known in the region as a buyer, Marquette expects its expansion there to accelerate under group president Robert W. Wightman, a company official said. In fact, Marquette’s flagship Sun Belt subsidiary, $2 billion-asset First State Bank of Texas, expects soon to announce a deal for a community bank in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, said Albert J. Colianni, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the parent company. He declined to discuss details of the pending deal.

Mr. Wightman, 50, said he has no doubt about what the home office expects from its southwest division.

“They’ve built a franchise based upon being opportunistic buyers,” he said. “I expect we’ll continue to be alert to those possibilities going forward.” In particular, Mr. Wightman said, he is eyeing Houston, Austin, Tex., and Phoenix — among the three fastest-growing cities in the country — for potential acquisitions.

Mr. Wightman, who has spent the last two years as a consultant, said he also will concentrate on increasing the cross-selling opportunities for Marquette’s 11 nonbank subsidiaries among its banking customers.

“We feel there is a great opportunity for them to utilize our distribution system and bring their capabilities to our marketplace,” he said.

Marquette’s rapid expansion in the Southwest mirrors the far more rapid growth in Sun Belt states than in the rest of the country. Population gains measured by the 2000 census in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico entitle these three states to a total of five additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The economic opportunities there are huge,” said Mr. Colianni.

Marquette has had a presence in Phoenix, where it owns $140 million-asset Community Bank of Arizona, since the late 1970s, Mr. Colianni said. But it did not move into the Southwest in a big way until 1991 when it bought First State Bank of Denton and changed its name to First State Bank of Texas. Marquette added Bank of Santa Fe (N.M.) to its holdings a year later.

Since the early 1990s, the combined assets of Marquette’s banks in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico have grown from less than $500 million to $2.3 billion.

Marquette is one of the country’s largest privately held financial companies. It has a presence in 17 states, but its banking business is rooted in Minnesota, where the company was founded shortly after World War II, and in Texas.

Mr. Colianni said the company focuses on serving small and middle-market companies, roughly those with annual sales of $5 million to $100 million.

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