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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 4, 2005 15 years ago

Orion's Earnings Hit Record

The Naples bank picks up new Sarasota deposits, too.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Orion's Earnings Hit Record

By Francis X. Gilpin

Associate Editor

Orion Bancorp Inc. reported 2004 earnings of just over $15 million, a record for Florida's second largest privately owned independent bank holding company.

Naples-based Orion Bancorp's banking subsidiary operates 14 offices across four Southwest Florida counties. Orion Bank, founded in the Keys in 1977, has a tiny but growing presence in Sarasota.

For the 12 months that ended Dec. 31, the bank reported earnings of $2.97 a diluted share. That was a 19% increase over the $2.50 a diluted share that the bank earned in 2003.

Although private, Orion has a limited number of local shareholders. So the bank breaks out its earnings on a per-share basis for easier comparison with publicly traded financial institutions, says Orion spokeswoman Monica Wurstle.

The bank attributed last year's earnings increase primarily to a 32% jump in net interest income, the difference between what Orion collected from borrowers and what it paid out to deposit holders.

But Jerry J. Williams, chairman, president and chief executive of Orion Bancorp, chose to spotlight the bank's rapid accumulation of assets.

"We passed a great milestone this year by exceeding $1 billion in assets and loans," Williams said in a prepared statement. "This is a remarkable accomplishment not only for a privately owned community bank but also in light of the challenging business environment and ever increasing competition in our markets."

During the past 2 1/2 years, Orion has opened three offices in Sarasota County, its first locations north of Fort Myers.

Two of the three offices are in downtown Sarasota and near the Manatee County line. Combined, the three Sarasota offices make up less than 4% of Orion's overall deposit base.

But under Rich Hopper, Orion increased deposits in the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice market by $22 million last year. Hopper, Orion's president for Sarasota-Manatee region, didn't return a telephone call from GCBR before deadline.

Orion had less than 1% of the deposits in the Sarasota market on June 30 of last year, according to federal regulators.

After adding no new locations in 2004, Orion plans to open two by March 31 of this year. One will be in Fort Myers, which is the bank's second office in Lee County. The other new office is planned for downtown Naples.

That will be the sixth for Orion in Collier County.

In 2004, Jacksonville investment bank Allen C. Ewing & Co. recognized Orion for the third consecutive year as one of the 10 best performers among community banks and thrifts in the state.

Orion placed eighth on the Ewing list, with a three-year average return on average-earning-assets of 23.1%.

"Our performance has been steady for years and years," Wurstle told GCBR. "We're very happy with what has been happening."

The bank was one of only three on the Ewing list of 10 that isn't organized as a subchapter S corporation. So-called S-corp banks enjoy tax advantages that tend to increase their profitability as compared to banks such as Orion.

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