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  • | 11:00 a.m. April 21, 2017
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Change is on the horizon at 1st Manatee Bank, where area banker Jim Kuhlman has been president and CEO of the Parrish-based bank since last May.

Kuhlman, 59, came to 1st Manatee after founding Florida Shores Bank, which was sold to Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank in 2014. He also started Premier Community Bank of Florida in 1996.

His time at those banks was marked by success in assets and loan growth—even during the recession.

Kuhlman, the Business Observer's Sarasota-Manatee Entrepreneur of Year in 2011, built the Venice branch of Premier Community Bank into a $150 million institution. He then led the group of investors who sold it, at 4.3 times book value, to Montgomery, Ala.-based Colonial Bank in 2004. At Florida Shores, which opened in November 2007 on the brink of the recession, Kuhlman led the bank in reaching $150 million in assets in 18 months.

After he sold Florida Shores, Kuhlman served as Stonegate's market president for the Sarasota area. When he left, a one-year noncompete agreement prevented Kuhlman from working with another community bank in Sarasota County. Kuhlman still wanted to work in community banking, so he sought out a Manatee County bank.

“I knew this was the best job on the planet,” Kuhlman says. “And I knew what I was meant to do is run a community bank.”

Kuhlman approached the 1st Manatee directors about the bank's need for fresh capital, and they brought him on. “They built a solid bank,” Kuhlman says. “We used it as a base to go forward and grow from.”

The bank, which was founded in 2007, had $161.8 million in assets at the end of 2016. But it needed more equity to grow at levels Kuhlman was accustomed to. Also, at $161.8 million, the bank is well below the $500 million in assets most community bankers say is a baseline to survive in the regulatory environment.

The goal? Raise $12 million. The bank, thanks mostly to Kuhlman's connections and past successes, hit that target in three months. A large chunk of capital came from people who were past Florida Shores and Premier Community Bank shareholders. The bank plans to use the capital to grow assets by about $150 million — nearly double its current size.

Kuhlman has grown the board, too. Additions include directors from his previous banks, such as George Pickhardt, a longtime Sarasota businessman who has helped grow Environmental Pest Service into one of largest pest control brands in the Southeast.

More recently, the bank added three more board members, including Kirk Boylston, who oversees commercial projects for Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. That brings the total board to 13 people — unusually high for a community bank.

“I wake up every day and think this is the third bank the directors and I have done, and it's the best one yet,” Kuhlman says. “Now we're older and wiser, it's profitable and it's the only community bank in Manatee.”

With Kuhlman's Sarasota County noncompete almost over, a new branch in Venice is planned for late May or early June. The bank has one branch in Parrish and two in Bradenton.

And because of the expansion, Kuhlman and the directors decided the 1st Manatee name didn't fit anymore. So they arrived at a new name, or really, an old name — Premier Community Bank of Florida. There's no affiliation with Kuhlman's former Premier Community Bank.

“We had a lot of goodwill with the name,” he says. “We were pleased we could use it again.”

As for Kuhlman, he says he doesn't plan on stepping back anytime soon. “I'll work hard for a long time for the shareholders,” he says. “If God gave you certain talents, it's a bad thing not to use them.”

He did retire briefly when he was 48, after one bank sale. But it wasn't long before he was back in the community bank business with Florida Shores. “It gets boring over a real short period of time,” Kuhlman says. “Absence of stress doesn't mean happiness.”


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