It’s been six long years in pursuing the goal of having a presence in downtown Billings, but that goal will be realized this month for Stockman Bank.
“We are really excited about moving in,” said Jeremy Morgret, branch manager of the newest branch of Montana’s largest family-owned bank. The five story building at the corner of 4th and Broadway in downtown Billings rises with a new grandeur for the heart of the state’s largest financial center. The move will happen at the end of the month with a Grand Opening week planned for January 9-13.
The new structure continues the familiar architectural design that has come to be associated with Stockman Banks throughout Montana. While unique in its own right, the new building still retains a western architectural style in red brick, which at once captures the nostalgia of Montana’s historic agriculture communities, blended with a modern look that sets a new standard for the openness and vibrancy of today’s urban Montana.
Wayne Nelson, President of Stockman Bank Billings, called the new bank “a trophy building.” It’s “one of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Billings,” he said. “The best of all locations for Stockman Bank.” The structure will include drive-up banking, ATM’s and a state-of-the-art conference room.
Stockman Bank officials are just as excited about the tenant that will be moving into the new building. “It’s a wonderful complimentary tenant,” enthused Nelson. Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co. PC, currently at 1601 Lewis Ave., is leasing over 20,000 square feet on the third, fourth and half of the fifth floors. Having one of the state’s largest CPA firms in the same building is a huge plus. “It’s an opportunity for great synergy,” said Nelson – accounting firms go “hand in hand” with banking.
Stockman Bank will use the entire first and second floors.The third and fourth floors will be entirely occupied by AZ. A portion of the fifth floor will house AZ’s computer room and file storage. Both AZ and Stockman Bank will have backup generators on the fifth floor as well.
“As early as 1995 we knew we wanted to have a branch in downtown Billings,” said Nelson. But, they didn’t anticipate it taking so long. Despite the hurdles, the company remained committed to the effort – paying more than appraised value for the property and wrangling through parking issues.
Building a bank building is important to Stockman Bank — its part of the company’s way of saying that they are committed to the community, said Nelson. They purchase property and build their own facility in each community in which they locate. They build substantial buildings that will endure a hundred years – because “we are here for the long-term and are looking at the next 100 years,” said Nelson.
Billings is especially important to Stockman Bank. The city is leading the state’s economic future, sitting as is does in the center of energy development throughout a multi-state region. “We are financing builders who are building in the eastern part of the state where most the oil production is happening,” said Nelson, who claims with little doubt that the recession has bottomed out, and that this region is well on the road to recovery.
To be building anything during these economic times is an amazing statement for any business about commitment and having a positive outlook about the future. But, Stockman Bank is not only nearing completion of the downtown bank in Billings, but will open a new location in Miles City, also at the end of the year, and they are already moving forward to building another branch in Billings at Grand Avenue and 14th Street, which will open in late 2012.
Nelson said that even though it’s been a tough time for the banking industry, Stockman Bank believes that the future is prime for community banks like Stockman and they are already seeing some of that market shift. Nelson notes that there is a difference between the big corporate banks and smaller community banks. Community banks were not part of the financial woes that caused so much upheaval nationally. Community banks function differently and operate under different circumstances and are not in business to satisfy Wall Street.
It’s been a scramble for community banks to keep up with the increased regulations, said Nelson, but the biggest impact is that it is more expensive to do business. Nelson oversees the operation of all Billings locations.
Nelson has been in banking since 1982. He became Stockman Bank Billings Heights president when it opened in 1998. Prior to joining Stockman Bank, Nelson was president of American Bank, a credit administrator for Norwest Bank and was a senior OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) field examiner, as well as a member of the West Coast Credit Expert Team for the OCC, Department of United States Treasury based in Billings.
Morgret, who will oversee the management of the new downtown bank, reports having assembled most of his team for the new location. The hiring of 18 people, and likely more in the near future, ultimately means the creation of 20 or more new jobs. They have drawn from the best talent within their own company and the community, boasts Morgret, pulling together the expertise needed to provide a full slate of banking services, including commercial, consumer and construction lending.
“We are looking for people who understand how Montana fits in our culture. We are a very entrepreneurial bank,” said Morgret. Being entrepreneurial at Stockman Bank means “We look hard for ways to get the deal done.”
Stockman Bank encourages its people to “think outside the box,” said Morgret, who is a graduate of MSU-Billings. Morgret previously served as a branch manager for a regional bank in Polson and was an Infantryman Team Leader in the United States Army from 1996-1999.
An entrepreneurial spirit prevails at Stockman Bank, explained Morgret because in making decisions “We aren’t guided by policy books inches thick.” He admits it’s an approach that isn’t seen a lot in the banking industry, but it’s one that works for Stockman Bank, as well as its customers. In dealing with clients “we look at what works for them.”
It’s an approach that has helped everyone through these economically-strained times. The number of “troubled assets” for Stockman Bank are “far and few between,” said Nelson. “We have some bruises, just like everyone, in an industry that has taken it on the chin,” said Nelson. But, because “we are the largest family-owned bank, we can work with our customers and work through their tough times, not just the good times. We look at it as being a financial partner.”
It’s that kind of approach that has given Stockman Bank an edge, believes Nelson and Morgret – it is the reason the company is the fastest growing bank in the state. Stockman Bank now has 24 locations in 18 communities throughout Montana. It is the fourth largest bank in the state and the largest agriculture bank – the 17th largest in the nation. Statewide the company employs nearly 500 people.
The company was launched in 1953 with the purchase of the Miles City Bank by Bill Nefsy, grandfather of today’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bill Coffee and Senior Officer, Caren Coffee. Miles City remains the company’s headquarters.
Much of the success of Stockman Bank also has to do with being located in Montana, a place where people hold strong values and work ethics, pointed out the bankers. In respect to both employees and customers, being in Montana brings the benefit that people here “still try to do what they commit to doing,” said Nelson, “A person’s word means something.”
“We know our people. We can drive down the street and see where they do business, said Morgret. In an e-banking world, “Stockman continues to be a place that is still very relationship-based.”
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103