BancorpSouth of Tupelo, Miss., aims to strengthen its presence in neighboring Tennessee by acquiring a $337 million-asset bank there.

The deal, worth $61.3 million, would merge Wes-Tenn Bancorp into BancorpSouth's subsidiary in Tennessee, doubling its branches in the state to 30.

The acquisition, which still requires approval from regulators and shareholders of Wes-Tenn, would bring BancorpSouth's Tennessee assets to $800 million, still short of its long-term goal of $1 billion.

"This allows us to expand and become a larger presence in west Tennessee," said L. Nash Allen, treasurer and chief financial officer of BancorpSouth. "It's the same small-town banking that we're familiar with."

Purchasing Wes-Tenn Bancorp, the parent company of Tennessee Community Bank in Covington, would be the third acquisition BancorpSouth has made in Tennessee, beginning in the summer of 1992.

The transaction would consist of a stock swap, exchanging 0.6296 share of BancorpSouth stock for each share of Wes-Tenn Bancorp stock.

Bank officials said they were attracted to Wes-Tenn Bancorp by its natural fit with BancorpSouth's existing franchise in the state, called Volunteer Bank, as well as by the quality of its personnel.

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