Southern Bancorp, the banking organization that has partnered with the Ross Foundation to fund the Clark County Strategic Plan, recently received a national bank award for its efforts in revitalizing rural communities.

Southern received the American Bankers Association Community Bank award at the ABA national conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

While most banks give money to local non-profit organizations, Phil Baldwin, chief executive officer, said Southern Bancorp is different because of its focus on developing rural communities. The earnings from the banks go into Southern’s non-profit organizations, Baldwin said. “Our stockholders don’t gain dividends.”

In addition to the CCSP Southern has been the backbone for strategic plans in Helena-West Helena and in St. Francis County. Southern Bancorp, which started in the 1980s by philanthropic leaders, now has 35 bank offices from Hot Springs to Memphis and New Orleans. “Southern Bancorp was started to help southeastern Arkansas and the Delta,” Baldwin said. “What we do is, when we see a problem, we fix it.”

Baldwin said Southern purchased many buildings in downtown to renovate and sell — including the Dawson Educational Cooperative headquarters. Southern Financial Partners recently agreed to finance the Royal Theatre property for an interest rate of only 3.5 percent for the City of Arkadelphia, and also provided funding for the 24-hour child care center in the Clark County Industrial Park. Baldwin said about $1 million per year goes into rural communities in the Delta region.

“I feel good about what I do every day, because it is making a difference in people’s lives. It feels good to go to work every day. We have a good bunch of people to work with.”

Baldwin said a Southern Bancorp bank office was recently opened in Washington, DC, in an effort for the bank to work with Congress and the new presidential administration to bring funding to the area. All of Southern Bancorp’s founding board members — Hillary Clinton, Rob Walton (chair of Walmart), Mac McLarty and Walter Smiley (founder of the company that later became Alltel) — live in Washington. “We have deep connections that we think will help us,” Baldwin said. “The key for Arkadelphia is that this is the headquarters for Southern Bancorp … it is important for future growth. This award elevates our community nationally.”

Baldwin noted that, in his extensive traveling around the country, he is always introduced as being from Arkadelphia, Ark. — “and that’s not a bad thing … Even though we got this award, there are a lot of people who have helped in our efforts.” Some of these people, he said, include Dr. Wesley Kluck, chair of the CCSP; Arkadelphia City Manager Jimmy Bolt; Bill Wright, president of the Clark County Industrial Council; Euodias Goza, chair of the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County; and each co-chair of the CCSP Steering Committee. “They have all given of themselves tremendously.” Baldwin said he remains optimistic about Clark County’s future growth, and is “appreciative of their work in this process.”

Southern Bancorp is a $600 million rural development bank holding company that operates three development banks and three non-profit organizations in Arkansas and Mississippi.

The ABA Community Bank Awards program was established in 2005 to recognize community banks’ outstanding charitable achievements.

The award is based on the innovation, creativity and effectiveness of the recipients’ approach to making a difference in rural communities.