By Ian Dinkins, MP&F
INSOUTH Bank’s President and CEO David Prince has lived in Brownsville, Tenn., for almost all his life. The town has changed some in his time there, but much of the character of the town like hard work and friendliness has stayed the same. He’s used to rolling with the punches and adapting to change. That will come in handy because a new $5.6 billion project in Prince’s hometown is set to begin later this year and transform this small Tennessee town into one of the mid-South’s biggest economic generators.
“We’re going to make our community shine.”
From the proof room to CFO and now as president and CEO, Prince has been part of INSOUTH’s journey for 35 years and has seen it all at the company. Prince returned to his hometown after graduating with an accounting degree from UT–Martin and started working at INSOUTH Bank (then named Brownsville Bank) in the proof room.
As it was the second oldest community bank in Tennessee, he knew firsthand about the bank’s steadfast values. Among those values were trust and loyalty. For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, the bank gained deposits. That was something Prince credits to residents and their belief in INSOUTH as an institution.
“It was absolutely amazing, but it was a testament to our customers and their faith in us,” Prince said.
INSOUTH has earned that faith by being a steady force in the Brownsville community for more than 150 years. Through several periods of economic uncertainty, one thing in the community was certain: that the bank would be there for residents. Even during the Great Depression, it was one of only a few banks nationwide never to close its doors. Today, the bank remains open in Brownsville and communities throughout West Tennessee, with more than 100 employees who carry on the legacy of being a community bank.
Prince will call on all of his years of experience as he steers the bank and his community through the economic transformation that will happen when Ford Motor opens Blue Oval City, a massive electric battery and truck plant.
Brownsville was one of 15 cities considered for the project by Ford before being selected last year. The reason Brownsville was selected? Among the reasons, Prince says, was a state-funded industrial park that left plenty of room for customization. Prince says it was the kind of “blank slate” Ford and South Korean company SK Innovation were looking for.
The plant is expected to create more than 5,000 jobs and bring a massive influx of new residents and energy to the small town nestled between Jackson and Memphis.
Opening in 2025, the site should start seeing as many as 3,000 construction workers by the end of this year, with that number going up to 8,000 before completion. “With the new residents coming in, we’ll have opportunity for as much growth as we want right here in our backyard,” Prince said.
As the president of the industrial development board in Haywood County, Prince has a unique view on this project and its potential economic impact on the town. As he said, “The simplest definition of economic development is creation of wealth in a community,” and the project is set to do just that.
Increased wealth means that improvements to basic infrastructure, schools and services can be implemented. But the inflow of new residents will bring other challenges, like housing, traffic and prices that confront any growing community.
Committees are already being formed in the town to manage the growth, including ones focused on health and safety, economic development, and even marketing for Brownsville and the surrounding area.
“Everything with us is about relationships. The rest is details.”
Like many rural communities—in Tennessee and across the nation—the last 20 or so years have seen population declines as people migrate to cities and suburbs. Blue Oval City promises to reverse that trend—a prospect that is as exciting as it is daunting.
All this excitement has brought a renewed sense of pride to Brownsville, Prince says.
“Just knowing that a global company chose our region to showcase everything they’re doing, that they’re going to pay people, come from all over the world to see this facility and come through our community is a big deal,” Prince said.
As far as how the bank navigates this change? It’s simple. Keep doing what they’re doing, Prince says.
INSOUTH is a fixture in Brownsville, and if you wonder why, it’s as Prince said, “all about relationships.” Relationships with their customers, their community and their people. That relationship-building has helped the bank continue to grow into five additional counties and have more than $443 million in assets.
In 2018, the bank surveyed the employees about the direction for philanthropic giving. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“Since 2018, between employees and the company, we’ve given nearly $200,000,” Prince said. “But part of that whole story is we weren’t just wanting to do financial voluntary work; we wanted to do some Kingdom building.”
Now, as the city is set to begin a transformation, community bankers like Prince are in key positions to see a lot of the growth firsthand. The bank will now have a big task ahead: maintain the strong relationships that they’ve created over generations while preparing to welcome new customers to the bank.
INSOUTH Bank and Prince will be on hand, as the bank has been for more than 150 years, to help the community navigate these exciting times and help the city of Brownsville grow well into the future.