Business First Bank — founded by former Gov. Buddy Roemer — has announced plans for a Baton Rouge market expansion through a merger deal with American Gateway Financial Corp.

For Business First — which is headquartered in Baton Rouge and has branches in Lafayette, Lake Charles, Covington, Houma and Shreveport — the deal will significantly increase its Baton Rouge footprint, which is where all 10 American Gateway branches are located, according to a press release issued Thursday announcing the deal.

“We have worked hard to build a reputation as Louisiana’s best business bank, for both our clients and for bankers eager to put their skills and experience to work making a difference for those clients,” says Business First President and CEO Jude Melville in a prepared statement. “While we continue to focus on serving our growing roster of entrepreneurs and business owners, this partnership is the next step — a foundational step — toward our larger goal of being not only Louisiana’s best business bank, but also the state’s most impactful community bank.”

The buyout of American Gateway — the deal's estimated value was not included in Thursday's release —  will make Business First the largest Baton Rouge-based community bank with a combined 16 locations, more than $1 billion in assets, $870 in deposits, $700 million in loans and $100 million in equity.

“We see a lot of synergies for our clients and employees in this partnership,” Don Ayres, American Gateway’s CEO and president, explains in a prepared statement. “Banking convenience will be enhanced with the addition of five new markets. Our balance sheet will be larger and more diversified, and clients will have access to a broader platform of busineses banking products and services and commercial bankers who have been the cornerstone of Business First’s success. We also have much to add to the Business First franchise, including diversification, talented employees and an established branch network that will immediately offer current clients more convenience. We’re very proud of our 106-year legacy and feel that Business First is the right partner with which to carry on that tradition of locally-focused, community-oriented service.”

The merger is expected to be finalized during the fourth quarter of 2014.

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