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JONESTOWN, Miss. – Residents of this small Mississippi town of between 1,800 and 2000 have been getting used to having a financial institution with regular hours in their community again. The Quitman Tri-County Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Marks, Mississippi, opened a branch in the small town on June 5, timing the grand opening to coincide with the annual conference of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions being held about two hours away. Robert Jackson, treasurer of the $5.4 million, 3,500 member institution, said that the grand opening provided his credit union and the town a certain degree of satisfaction, since the credit union moved into the building that used to house a branch of a bank which had gradually shortened its hours and then abandoned the community altogether. The AmSouth branch was the last financial institution the town had, Jackson reported. But the bank had opened the door for the credit union by giving its branch building to the town, which then leased it to the credit union for $1 a year. Jackson said the credit union’s first challenge in the new community is letting residents know that the credit union had arrived in the community and pointing out the differences between the credit union and the former bank branch. “I had a woman in just the other day, while I was there,” Jackson said, chuckling. “She just couldn’t understand that we are going to be open five days a week, and regular hours. The bank had only been open a couple of days per week and then only a few hours a day,” he explained. The triumph was also satisfying because miscommunication with its regional NCUA office had been one of the obstacles the credit union had had to overcome on the way to the grand opening, Jackson explained. Initially some of the NCUA regional staff had left the impression with Quitman that the regional office would not look with favor on an expansion into Jonestown, particularly since the credit union had expanded relatively quickly through field of membership additions and a merger. But Jackson explained that after stories about the credit union’s opportunity in Jonestown appeared in the media and detailed how AmSouth, the community’s previous bank, was working to help facilitate the move, that the NCUA regional staff clarified the agency’s position and urged the credit union to apply for the field of membership expansion. “They granted the expansion in 30 days,” Jackson said, “which is really extraordinary in our experience.” Jackson said that now that the branch has opened, the credit union will focus on helping residents understand how the credit union can help them. Personally, he anticipates focusing more attention on his campaign for state senate as well, he said. Jackson is running to represent the 11th district in the state government, a district that includes both Jonestown and the small community of Tunica, among others. Tunica, Mississippi is the locality where a number of different organizations have taken advantage of Mississippi’s changed gambling laws to set up a number of casinos. These have been both a blessing to the region and a problem, Jackson explained, as they have brought jobs to the impoverished areas but also served to hamper some of the residents’ efforts to build better financial lives. Jackson’s only opposition for the seat comes from a candidate that the casino concerns are backing, and he said he hopes to win in order to give the region a voice for genuine economic development in the statehouse. [email protected]

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