Photo:  Construction has begun at the intersection of MLK and I10 for corporate headquarters for First State Bank, which is expected to open in February 2018.

Dave Rogers

For The Record

Vowing to “bring good local banking back to Southeast Texas,” Orange’s Damon Vacek is keeping a close eye on progress at the corner of Interstate 10 and Martin Luther King Drive.

That’s where First State Bank is building its 8,500-square foot corporate headquarters.

“If the rain will hold up, we want to be open by February,” said, the bank president. “Once we’re fully staffed, there will be 25 to 30 employees working there.”

First State Bank is already doing business in Orange, operating out of temporary quarters at 2202 MacArthur Dr., next to the NAPA auto parts store.

Bridge City Bank is the only other locally owned bank in Orange County.

Among those working at First State Bank with Vacek are Doug Allen, Annette Bonin, Charley Elkins, Kelly Wade and Carlos Vacek, Damon Vacek’s father.

All have been working for several decades in banking and lending in Orange.

“We got a group of investors together – 95 percent of them are from Southeast Texas, most from Orange – because we wanted to bring good local banking back to Southeast Texas,” Damon Vacek said.

Carlos Vacek has been in Southeast Texas banking since 1970, buying and selling institutions as well as loans.

“My dad put together a group that bought Orange Bank that included Vincent Kickerillo out of Houston,” Damon Vacek recalled.

“Not long after, Hibernia in Louisiana wanted to make a push into Texas and Orange Bank sold to Hibernia.

“In 2001, he got a group of investors and bought First National Bank of Newton, which had branches in Buna, Kirbyville and Jasper.

“Soon, Walter Umphrey wanted to expand, so it became Community Bank.”

Umphrey’s purchase sent the Vaceks back to Orange.

“I came in at First National Bank of Newton, but left when Community Bank took over. Dad retired,” Damon Vacek said.

“I was working at First Financial Bank in Orange, but it was a big bank, not my comfort zone. I was talking to my dad during Christmas in 2014 and he said, ‘I think I’ve got one more in me.’”

That’s when the Vaceks put together investors to buy First State Bank of Three Rivers, Texas, a town of 2,000 halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

That was in 2015. In 2016, they opened up a Beaumont branch.

“There are no new charters being issued any more,” Damon Vacek explained the Three Rivers purchase. “You have to merge small banks. Our situation was we bought a really good small bank and went in to make it a medium sized bank.”

Vacek says being locally owned and operated is a big advantage for First State Bank.

“The larger you get, the more restrictions get put on you by the banking regulators. It gets too compartmentalized,” he said.

“Here, you can deal with one person from cradle to the grave. You get the benefit of local decision-making. Our management is right here in Southeast Texas.

“If you need something we can get you served as quick as possible.”

Orange City Council approved in late May a $175,000 economic development incentive for First State Bank. The funds will reimburse the new business for infrastructure improvements such as extending city water and sewer lines and a lift station, explained Jay Trahan, Orange’s assistant city manager and economic development officer.

“For the City of Orange, it’s a capital investment program,” he said. “They are spending $2.5 million for construction and creating at least 25 full-time jobs and we reimburse them up to $175,000 as the [qualifying] work is completed and certified by the city.”