First Arkansas Bank & Trust

City: Jacksonville
Category: Category III (76-300 Employees)
Year: 2001

First Arkansas Bank & Trust has built a reputation as one of the top performers among its national peers.

The $236 million-asset concern has produced an average return on assets (2.75 percent in 2001) that has led the way among state banks, and it even topped the chart among banks its size in the nation in 1998.

Profits grew to more than $6 million in 2001, an increase of 14.1 percent. Its average return on equity reached 16 percent for the year.

A defining moment in the bank's history occurred in May 1993 when a Sunday night fire ravaged its headquarters. Despite the calamity, temporary facilities were operational by the start of business the next day.

"It was a great example of everyone pulling together," said Larry Wilson, chairman, president and CEO of the bank. "We grew from it and learned from it. Our customers never missed an opportunity for service."

The bank, Jacksonville's first, originally was founded as Jacksonville State Bank by a small group of investors in 1949. The Wilson family now represents the bank's sole ownership group.

The name was changed to First Jacksonville in 1964 and First Arkansas in 1998. The bank has thrived amid the ripples caused by bank consolidation.

A staff of 140 works in nine locations - three in Jacksonville, two each in Cabot and the Little Rock Air Force Base and one each in Gravel Ridge and El Paso. The branches are augmented by a network of 14 automated teller machines.

First Arkansas is active in a host of local civic and charitable organizations, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a variety of Jacksonville projects.

"We're aren't flashy, but we know our market better than other banks because we listen well and we respond," Wilson said.

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