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Four years after entering the Chattanooga market with the loan production office, BancorpSouth opened its first full-service bank branch in downtown Chattanooga this summer and is planning to add two to four more branches in coming years, Chattanooga Market President Sam Jones said Thursday.

During a holiday party and ribbon cutting Thursday night for the bank's Broad Street office, Jones said he is looking at suburban sites for another branch to add in 2019. Jones said BancorpSouth wants to grow with other offices or acquisitions in the market in future years.

"We're looking at opportunities right now in East Ridge and East Brainerd for branch locations," he said. "We're looking at three to five branches in this market, and that is assuming we don't buy another bank."

In the past two decades, BancorpSouth and its corporate predecessor, Bank of Mississippi, has been an aggressive growing bank holding company, buying 10 other banks in 20 years to grow into a $13.3 billion-asset bank with operations in nine states.

Even with 28 commercial banks operating in metropolitan Chattanooga, Bill Buckley, president of the Northeast Region of BancorpSouth, said he is optimistic about more growth in the local banking industry as Chattanooga's economy grows.

"I am one of Chattanooga's biggest fans and I promise you every time I go back home to Jackson (Tennessee) I tell people how great this city is," Buckley said. "I hope we become a big part of this community."

BancorpSouth entered Tennessee with the purchase of a bank in Jackson, Tenn., in 1992 and expanded into Middle Tennessee a decade ago. The Tupelo, Miss.-based bank operates 317 offices across nine states, including 31 full-service offices in Tennessee.

Jones, a 41-year banker in Chattanooga, is on his third startup of a bank in the local market with his role as head of the eight-employee BancorpSouth operation in Chattanooga. After beginning his career with the former American National Bank, Jones helped bring Regions Bank to Chattanooga prior to its acquisition of the former AmSouth Bank, and he headed the first FirstBank in Chattanooga, which has subsequently bought Northwest Georgia Bank and the Chattanooga and North Georgia branches of Atlantic Capital Bank.

Jones praises BancorpSouth as "a great regional bank that affords us a lot more flexibility in doing different kind of credit facilities to serve small and mid-sized companies in our region."

"Our wheelhouse in Chattanooga is serving small businesses doing loans from $1 million to $15 million," he said. "We consider ourselves a kind of super community bank and we'll be able to focus and have complete relationships with our customers as they grow."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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