15 Minutes With … Tom LaBrie

Tom LaBrie enjoys watching local  baseball as a pastime.

Tom LaBrie enjoys watching local baseball as a pastime.

Market President for the $2.2 Billion-Asset Dacotah Bank in Aberdeen, S.D.

IB: What are your current roles and responsibilities as Dacotah Bank’s market president in Clark, S.D.?

LaBrie: First and foremost is to oversee the lending activity for the bank and to ensure the safety and soundness of the bank is well maintained. Additionally, I feel a responsibility to provide community leadership to help facilitate improvements, advancement, opportunities. Viable communities and viable businesses and farm operations are a necessity for a viable and strong banking organization.

IB: What’s involved with doing your job well?

LaBrie: Certainly the support of our larger company, Dacotah Banks Inc. By that support, I don’t just mean such activities as establishing sound banking policies, providing a variety of current and modern products, and helping to conduct thorough credit analysis. Beyond all of that, it’s necessary to have their moral support in giving me the freedoms of knowing our territory, assisting my civic efforts and supporting my philosophy in building customer dedication, customer satisfaction and a strong community presence.

IB: What new projects are you working on?

LaBrie: As president of the Clark Rotary Club, I spearheaded the second year of a baseball park renovation. This is coming to final completion this year. The club also took my lead in planting boulevard trees within the community. We have planted more than 350 trees, most of which may have never been planted.

I also helped start the Greater Clark Area Community Foundation that has a fund that has grown to more than $400,000, which allows about $20,000 of grants to be made locally each year. Maintaining the fund will allow those grants and scholarships to continue perpetually.

IB: What community development role is Dacotah Bank playing?

LaBrie: Dacotah Bank tries to support as many local projects and organizations it can. When there is a public building project, we like to buy bonds or provide financing wherever possible. We make donations of many sizes, depending on the local project.

Dacotah Bank also encourages its employees to get involved in local clubs and service projects. We like to have our fingerprints on as many local activities as possible.

IB: Any recent challenges?

LaBrie: A big challenge for small communities is—and has been for some time—providing housing and jobs. It’s like the chicken and the egg. To attract companies with jobs, you need people. To get people to move to your community, you need housing.
It’s difficult to convince many people that if you build, they will come. I subscribe to that philosophy, but it is sometimes difficult to bring that same commitment along with the people who can make it happen.

IB: What’s your role?

LaBrie: I like to support new ideas. Nothing will squash innovation and forward thinking faster than having someone’s idea left on the table. Dacotah Bank’s philosophy has always been, “We like to say, yes!” And analyzing and supporting good projects and ideas in the community is where I come in.

IB: How can capable leadership sustain a healthy local economy?

LaBrie: If you, as a banker, have positioned yourself in the community as someone who can and will try to get things done, then that can go a long way in building trust and loyalty. It’s good for the community and equally good for the bank.

But it doesn’t stop with just the banker. You need players in community government and other leaders, and support from the school districts and community members, of course. Communities need to be open and willing to change, and, frankly, some just want things to stay the way they are. I see what happens to communities that have that mentality, and they end up going backwards.

IB: How does embracing help sustain a healthy community and economy?

LaBrie: In our area of South Dakota, there are numerous small communities. Some are doing well, and some are just barely hanging on. Those that embraced change and had forward-thinking leadership are still viable communities with strong school systems, strong churches and progressive businesses that support its citizens and offer opportunities for newcomers.

I like to look at things for what they can be, not for what they are. Embracing help is key to success in a healthy community. Asking for and getting help encourages “buy in.” When others “touch” a project, it becomes part of them. They are proud of it. They support it and each other. Help can come in other forms also.

As Dacotah bankers, we engage and partner with other lenders like development corporations, revolving loan funds, rural electric cooperatives and others. Spreading risk allows us to be innovative with financing to help get things done within the community.

IB: Any examples of local positive change?

LaBrie: People now drive through Clark and see all the boulevard trees that are growing and know that we had a role in that. The baseball park project is the same. People see me and other Dacotah Bank employees out there working on the improvements, and they know that we work for a company that supports not only the project but the time we need outside of the bank to make things happen.

Thirty years ago, I invited some local business people to breakfast to discuss economic development. It was a dream at first, but we all had a common interest and formed the Clark Industrial Development Corp. Over the years, we did many things, and as a result ended up with a board that eventually purchased land and developed an industrial park that is now home to four businesses and has room for more.

IB: Tell me about Dacotah Bank and its marketplace.

LaBrie: Dacotah Bank in Clark dates back to 1922 when M.J. McGillivray started Citizens State Bank on Aug. 22, 1922, in Garden City. J.A. McGillivray was president, and M.J. McGillivray was cashier. Dr. J.C. Ash and Thomas Mankey were directors.

Citizens State Bank started a precedent in 1928 by branching into the communities of Bradley, Willow Lake and then Vienna. Its charter moved to Clark on Aug. 1, 1944, along with its deposits of $652,168.

The trade area for the bank was typically Clark County, and Clark is the county seat for Clark County. Over the years, the bank’s footprint has expanded to surrounding counties and communities as well.

IB: What’s different about your marketplace?

LaBrie: Our marketplace is different because customer wants and needs are changing. The banking industry has moved to meet the needs of a changing society. Dacotah Bank has positioned itself to be on the leading edge of the new products and services the customer wants.

Some smaller banks and organizations have not kept up and have had to merge with larger organizations in order to provide those services. Since I have been in Clark, we have had several competitors, and they changed names over the years as their ownership changed. Our last competitor finally closed its Clark office.

Since this bank was bought from the McGillivrays, it has maintained the same ownership. I think that consistency has contributed to its success.

IB: How is your local economy?

LaBrie: Locally, Clark County seems to be holding its own. There are still viable communities in Clark County, and there are still individuals who cling to rural values. We are primarily an agricultural community, and during the past few years our local agricultural industry has done well. However, we are seeing some trying times on the farm lately, but during my 40 years here this is not the first time and it won’t be the last we’ll see trying times.

IB: How is business lending?

LaBrie: There has been, and I suspect always will be, strong loan demand in our area. Our farm customers are experiencing higher cost for crop inputs, higher land prices, which relates to higher cash rents and equipment that either needs repair or replacing.

The largest struggle in agricultural lending is the unknown: What will we get for livestock and grain prices when it’s time to sell?

IB: Tell us about yourself. What do you like to do for fun?

LaBrie: I’m hopelessly devoted to my family. My wife of 28 years, Brenda. My three children Alexandra, Emily and Colin. And my two grandchildren Max and Ava, both 2 years old.

I enjoy going to ball games, theater and gardening.