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Views: Bankers Explore Innovation in a Difficult Economy

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In this economy, can you be innovative and create sustainable economic opportunities and still meet obligations and customer expectations?

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis helped bankers and other community leaders from 21 states answer that nagging question during the springtime Exploring Innovation: A Conference on Community Development. The St. Louis Fed holds the conference every other year.

Among those who attended was Ben Steinberg of Southern Bancorp Inc., who complimented the closing address by Bill Strickland, president and CEO of
Manchester Bidwell Corp. "In my mind, Strickland was able to connect what he was doing in Pittsburgh with the successful programs like KIPP Delta Public School in Helena, Ark. Both programs raise the bar of expectations. Both programs provide high quality space to their participants. Both have a much wider impact and extend far beyond the expected movement in one set of benchmarks."

Bobby Culler of First Bank & Trust Co. Inc. in Caruthersville, Mo., said during the conference that it's good to network and collaborate with people who have some of the same kinds of situations and problems that his organization faces. Patricia Avery of Old National Bank in Evansville, Ind., said that the conference exposed participants to a wide variety of successful programs and models that she's now considering.

"But perhaps most importantly, the message that 'now is the time to innovate' came through loud and clear," said Avery, who serves as Old National's director of community innovation. "We know what's worked in the past. But if we're going to succeed in strengthening our communities, we've got to move beyond what we're comfortable with now and develop 21st century strategies and tools that can change the future of our communities."

Avery and Culler were among the bankers and other participants who were interviewed during the conference for the Exploring Innovation YouTube channel.

Before the conference, the majority of attendees were not optimistic about community development opportunities in their areas, but by the end, their attitudes had changed.

For more information on exploring innovation in community development, see the St. Louis Fed's Community Development web page or visit the conference page.