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PremierWest to acquire California chain

PremierWest Bank executives John Anhorn and Rich Hieb have faith in the rural economy stretching along the Interstate 5 corridor.

In a recent acquisition and merger spree, PremierWest has grown from its modest beginning in 1998 of two Rogue Valley branches to its present 12, including a finance company and a mortgage division supporting a payroll of 172 employees.

Now PremierWest is about to launch yet another self-imposed growth spurt, stepping over the Oregon state line into Northern California with their acquisition of Timberline Community Bank.

The Timberline acquisition will add eight branches and $100 million to PremierWest's asset portfolio. The deal likely will be completed by April and includes a combination of cash and an exchange of common stock.

Timberline's branches are located from Yreka south to Dunsmuir, and from the Klamath Basin to Tulelake.

Before embarking on their own, Anhorn and Hieb first helped grow Western Bank into a formidable banking interest before it was purchased by Washington Mutual in 1997. Anhorn served as president; Hieb was executive vice president.

The two joined forces in May 1998 to bring PremierWest onto the Southern Oregon banking scene, starting with two branches and $130 million in assets.

The bigger banks have done it before, but it's the first time a small (Oregon) community bank has made that move, Anhorn said of PremierWest's interstate deal.

The (acquisition) of Timberline fits well with our philosophy as a bank, he added. It's the working rural community.

PremierWest recently extended its reach into the Southern Oregon community banking market with its acquisition of Motor Investment Co., of Klamath Falls, in October and Leader Mortgage, of Medford, in December.

Before PremierWest's diversification in the financial realm, the bank primarily catered to small commercial customers.

That really was our bread and butter, Hieb said.

The decision to acquire Motor Investment Co. allowed the bank to serve borrowers with a tainted credit history, allowing them to reestablish credit, he said.

The acquisition of Leader Mortgage — now PremierWest Mortgage Division — broadened the bank's offerings in the real estate lending arena.

Hieb anticipates PremierWest's loan activity will grow from its $3 million level in May to $10 million by the end of the first quarter of 2001.

To accommodate its growth, PremierWest will soon be breaking ground on a new 10,000-square-foot administration building on Airport Road.