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In 1986, then Governor Bill Clinton and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation announced an initiative to end decades of economic decline in rural Arkansas by creating new trends of investment in people, jobs, business and property. Southern Bancorp, a community development bank holding company, and its family of nonprofit development affiliates would emerge from that initiative. A consortium of private foundations, governmental entities, corporations and concerned individuals would come together later that year to incorporate Southern Bancorp.
Founding directors included then Arkansas First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Thomas F. (Mack) McClarty, ShoreBank founders Ron Grzywinski and Mary Houghton, Tom McRae, Henry Morgan, Dorothy Stuck and Rob Walton.
Over the past two decades, Southern has adapted its approach to the specific needs of the region. Southern’s strategy for change involves geographically focused community planning and development efforts within 50 miles of Southern bank branches. Along the way, Southern has grown with the acquisition of banks in southern and eastern Arkansas and western Mississippi, including: Elk Horn Bank and Trust in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, First Bank of the Delta in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, Delta Southern Bank in Mississippi, Timberland Bank of El Dorado, Arkansas, First Delta Bankshares in Mississippi County, Arkansas, First National Bank of Blytheville in Blytheville, Arkansas, and Bank of Trumann in Trumann, Arkansas.
Southern Bancorp is one of the largest and most profitable rural development banking organizations in the United States. As such, it has the physical presence, infrastructure, and capacity to drive regional change. Southern Bancorp’s revitalization initiatives are advanced through its family of community development banks and non-profit affiliates, known collectively as Southern. Southern’s focus on rural development is best indicated by the fact that its offices are located in small rural communities, most with populations of 15,000 or less. The mission of Southern is a personal responsibility of its employees who live, work, and raise families in the communities served by Southern.