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Sweet Water bank sold to Sweet Water bank

SWEET WATER-When hearing of a multi-million dollar transaction involving the exchange of ownership of several branches of a successful bank, most would think of Wall Street skyscrapers and men in thousand-dollar suits walking between them. But sometimes, these transactions happen right here in Marengo County.

That was the case this week as Sweet Water State Bank was brought back under local ownership after having been previously acquired by Mobile-based firm BancTrust, who also operate a branch in Demopolis. Several directors and members of Sweet Water State Bank had formed the group Tombigbee Bancshares Inc., which this week entered into a “definitive agreement” to purchase the Sweet Water-based business from BancTrust.

“Sweet Water State Bank has always had a strong commitment to the communities in which we operate, and this solidifies our local control,” said Sweet Water State Bank president Stratton F. Lewis in a public statement released jointly by Sweet Water and BancTrust. “We have valued our association with BancTrust and appreciate this opportunity to build on our local record.”

In an interview Friday afternoon, Lewis said that the transaction would only mean better service for Sweet Water State Bank customers.

“We’ll still have the same internet banking, debit cards, checking and CD account service we’ve been offering,” Lewis said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to be a locally-owned business again…we’ve always focused on personal service. Personal service is the biggest thing in the banking business.”

Sweet Water State Bank operates three separate branches–all of them in Marengo County–with one each in Sweet Water, Linden, and Thomasville. According to the statement, their assets at the close of 2005 totaled $52.5 million. In citing the company’ many Marengo ties, Lewis noted that two members of the Sweet Water State Bank Board (Jack Kerby and James Lewis) hail from Demopolis.

According to officials with BancTrust, the sale doesn’t arise from any kind of disappointment with the Sweet Water State Bank branches, but from an increased effort to capitalize on faster-growing regions closer to its Mobile headquarters.

“Over time our strategy has shifted,” said BancTrust president W. Bibb Lamar. “We are now seeking to concentrate our efforts and resources on the areas that are growing more rapidly. This transaction will allow us to allocate more resources to our growth markets, while also providing a means for us to place Sweet Water State Bank into the hands of local owners who have a vested interest in that bank and that community.”

F. Michael Johnson, BancTrust’s Chief Financial Officer, reiterated Lamar’s allocation statements Friday and added that the split was 100 percent amicable.

“I think both sides are very happy with this,” he said. “We are absolutely not unhappy in any way with the Sweet Water Bank properties. This is just a re-allocation of capital based on growth prospects along the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast. It’s a totally friendly transaction. We’re all in this together on this one.”

According to the public statement, BancTrust operates 25 offices in southern Alabama and another eight in the Florida panhandle. Its assets total approximately $1.2 billion, and BancTrust shares are traded on NASDAQ SmallCap Stock Market under the symbol BTFG.