Formed in 1986 by Arkansas government and business leaders, Southern Bancorp has been instrumental in addressing the problem of rural poverty. By focusing on development within fifty miles of each Southern branch, the bank ensures that its investments are going to help the communities it serves. With forty-five branches in Arkansas and Mississippi, and more than $1 billion in assets, Southern Bancorp is often the only banking option in rural areas as more and more banks desert small towns and other under-served areas. Every Southern branch, meanwhile, is locally managed and serves a town or county with fewer than 15,000 people.
The relationship forged between Southern Bancorp and its communities is invaluable in the bank’s goal for rural development. Not only does such a relationship create trust, it makes the foundation for economic development that much more solid and secure. Southern works to build on that foundation by encouraging tighter community development, in leadership as well as in infrastructure.
Beyond banking, Southern has a number of projects to help rural communities. The Delta Bridge Project is dedicated to developing the struggling Phillips County through strategic community planning and investment. Of the $74 million already committed to the project, Southern Bancorp has invested over $9.3 million in grants and loans. Similar projects are underway in Clark County in Arkansas, and Drew and Ruleville Counties in Mississippi.
Additionally, Southern targets rural educational and health care needs. Because rural areas are some of the most-overlooked by health professionals, Southern Bancorp provides incentives for health care services to move into these areas. Thanks to Southern and its partners, Phillips County is now home to the Helena Health Foundation, a $4.5 million health care facility that provides its members not only with access to physicians, but also with exercise equipment, an exercise and wellness library, and other health resources.
As it continues to expand, Southern Bancorp’s positive influence will likely be felt in the Delta region for years to come.