San Diego's Bank of Commerce, bucking the corporate downsizing trend, increased its staff by 50% last year - and nearly doubled its profits.

The $311 million-asset bank boosted its staff from 135 to 202 by yearend, while profits increased from a little more than $1 million in 1994 to $2.1 million.

President and chief executive Peter Q. Davis said his bank has benefited in part from San Diego's recent economic revitalization. The region was hard hit by falling real estate values and the subsequent recession earlier in the decade, precipitating the failure of several San Diego banks and thrifts.

"There aren't a whole lot of local-based banks left here, and we think we're in pretty good position to pick up business as San Diego begins its comeback," he said.

The bank has had to pay for its growth, as noninterest expenses increased by almost a third last year to $14.2 million. Its efficiency ratio, however, improved somewhat last year, in spite of the bigger staff. It fell from 80% to a still-high 76%.

The growth has been fueled in part by unprecedented ventures out of state, beginning in 1993 when the bank opened Small Business Administration loan offices in Phoenix and Las Vegas - where loan demand was higher. The two offices account for 26% of the bank's SBA loan production. The bank announced earlier this week that it will open three new offices this spring - in Reno, Nev., Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz.

Commerce has also opened a new retail branch and purchased another one from First Commercial Bank of Sacramento in the past year. It had a secondary stock offering within the past year and is now listed on Nasdaq.

"We went from the 13th-largest bank based in San Diego to being the third in just two years, and we passed a lot of banks that are going in the opposite direction," he said.

The bank's growth has been bolstered partly by the problems at other area institutions, which have had many more layoffs than new hires.

"We picked up a lot of people that were apprehensive about being laid off or weren't sure just what direction the bank they were working at was taking," Mr. Davis said. "There's a lot of enthusiastic people here who have seen the other side and are pleased to be with a winner.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.