What kind of commercial structure are you most likely to see when driving west from Interstate 77 on Catawba Avenue in Cornelius?
The answer becomes obvious in a few seconds: a bank! Not just “a” bank, but a dozen banks and credit unions within about a mile and half of each other.
From east to west, Catawba reads like a who’s who of the banking industry: State Employees Credit Union (SECU), BB&T, Fifth Third Bank, First Citizens Bank, Carolina Telco Credit Union, First Community Bank, Bank of America, Aquesta Bank, Wells Fargo, Regions Bank, Community One Bank and the Bank of Granite.
“Where you have a lot of banks, you have a lot of growth,” according to Thad Woodard, president and CEO of the N.C. Bankers Association. “Having a large number of banks together helps to make Cornelius and Lake Norman a vibrant area.”
Bank officials contacted by the Observer agree. “Cornelius is a very good location for us, offering sound opportunity for development, with its proximity to Lake Norman, Charlotte and the interstate,” said Regions Bank spokesman Mel Campbell. Their Cornelius branch, which said is “quite profitable,” opened in 2001.
Similar sentiments were echoed by several other banks surveyed by the Observer, including the hometown giant Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte.
“Our Cornelius branch has been around since the ’80s and we have a loyal customer base, with new accounts opening every week,” said T.J. Crawford, a spokesman for Bank of America. He said the bank’s decision to open a branch is driven by existing opportunity and growth potential, both of which are influenced by competition in the area.
Having such a large number of banks in one town sits well with Cornelius officials, too. “The town is proud to have the concentration and diversity of banks/financial institutions located in Cornelius,” said Town Manager Anthony Roberts. “The competition and diversity is good for our citizens and businesses.”
With the infusion of new banks over the past several years, residents stand to benefit a great deal, according to Anne Burger, 67, of Cornelius. “As a retired real estate broker with more than 20 years in the business, I welcome the new banks. Competition is always good for free markets.”
Burger said that with competition from some of the smaller banks, the accessibility of mortgages will increase and the housing and commercial markets can recover faster.
With so many banks already in town, is there room for more? Apparently so.
The Wellworth Realty Building on West Catawba Avenue was recently leveled to make way for yet another bank: Bank of the Ozarks. At a recent meeting at Town Hall, Senior Vice President Tom Dutton said that the new branch will be the bank’s first into the Charlotte area. “We began in 1903 as a small community bank in Jasper, Ark.,” Dutton said. “The company moved its headquarters to Little Rock, (Ark.), in 1995 and we have now grown to more than 100 locations in the Southeast.”
Construction is expected to begin in late summer or early fall; by the end of the year, depositors in the region will have one more bank to choose from.
Dave Vieser is a freelance writer.
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