Signaling its intention to continue growing in Florida, Stearns Bank in St. Cloud, Minn., has named veteran banker Tramm Hudson as president of its Florida operation.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported this week that the $1.2 billion-asset Stearns considered as many as 20 candidates before appointing Hudson to the newly created position. Hudson was most recently a Florida regional president for Whitney National Bank of New Orleans, which was acquired last week by Hancock Holding Co. of Gulfport, Miss.

Stearns entered Florida two years ago when it acquired two failed banks in Sarasota County. Its chief executive, Norm Skalicky, told the Business Journal that it intends to continue bulking up there by adding branches and perhaps buying more failed banks.

"We consider Florida one of the best markets in the nation," he said.

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