Texas is seeing some of its first new banks in years.

In one of the most overcrowded community banking states in the country, where small banks are being bought at a frenetic pace, some hardy investors and executives are bent on opening banks.

They've created a start-up boomlet in the Lone Star State. Last month dnear Houston, which already had 50 community banks as well as offices of nearly every major banking company in the nation, First Community Bank opened its doors under the first national bank charter granted to a Texas group since 1988.

In Dallas, a less crowded but no less competitive banking market, three groups have applied for national charters.

Clyde Hensley, who heads one of the three, applied to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last month to open Eagle National Bank in Dallas. Many community banks in the Dallas area went under in the 1980s, he noted, but "those that survived are doing great, and they're being sold for well over book."

Mr. Hensley started Pavilion Bank in the early 1980s, a period he called "the worst time to start a bank in Texas." Pavilion was eventually sold for a hefty premium in 1986. Ever since, Mr. Hensley has been looking for a new start-up opportunity.

"Now, it's the best time to start a bank in Texas," he said.

Both Eagle National and TownBank in nearby Mesquite, headed up by veteran Dallas Banker Michael Kowalksi, filed their applications with the OCC within two days of each other.

Mr. Hensley and others like him are following the contrarian, if predictable, track of de novo trends. Dozens of new banks were started in Texas in the early 1980s when property values and the oil and gas business were peaking. By 1986, there were almost 2,000 banks in the state.

The energy and real estate crisis felled hundreds of Texas banks in the late 1980s, introducing interstate banking and, when asset quality stabilized, a rapid consolidation that continues.

And in the confusion of mergers, new banks thrive.

"I think it's wonderful and absolutely healthy," said Dennis McCuistion, an Irving, Tex., consultant and former bank chief executive. "As the banks consolidate, by design they are going to leave certain customer bases unserved."

And, though risky, the strategy is sound. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas showed that while the major out-of-state banks were buying up market share by purchasing Texas' biggest banks, the state's small independent banks were grabbing it away from them and actually gaining it faster.

First Community, based in a southern suburb of Houston, is a typical example of the new banks. In February 1994 Nigel Harrison, himself a refugee CEO from a series of small-bank mergers, brought together a number of local businesspeople and raised $3.25 million to start the bank.

"We knew there was a need for a community-type bank that was really interested in its customers," said June Simmons, senior vice president and cashier of First Community. "The people who organized the bank basically became disgruntled at all the bank mergers and wanted to start a bank that would be more personal in its approach."

In addition to Eagle, First Community, and TownBank, former MBank executive David Harrison is planning an as-yet-unnamed new bank in Dallas, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

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