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Pensacola-based Gulf Coast Community Bank and Baton Rouge, La.-based Iberville Bank have been purchased by First Bancshares, based in Hattiesburg, Miss., officials announced Friday.

First Bancshares does business as “The First: A National Banking Association.”

“We are bringing together three community banks sharing in a common purpose, to deliver extraordinary personal service to our customers,” said M. Ray “Hoppy” Cole, president and CEO of First Bancshares and The First. “We are thrilled to join forces with these institutions as we share a common set of core values and Iberville and Gulf Coast Community Banks have distinguished themselves by being totally focused on serving their clients and communities, delivering exemplary service and being good corporate citizens. Their cultures align perfectly with ours, focusing on safe, sound, profitable growth.”

Together, the three banks serve customers with 48 locations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, officials said. The combined company will have approximately $1.6 billion in total assets, $1.4 billion in total deposits, and $1.1 billion in total loans.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to join The First. We are convinced that they are fully committed to the values of community banking with an emphasis placed upon long term relationships,” said Buzz Ritchie, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Bank. “This is a strategic move for us as we will strengthen and expand our core products and services and will better serve existing and future customers. We believe this merger also provides strong value for our shareholders who have been committed and loyal to us over the years.”

The merger of the three banks is a continuation of The First’s strategic plan to create a regional community bank in the Gulf South, company officials said. The First has achieved 68 consecutive quarters of profitability and has earned a five-star rating from BauerFinancial.

Gulf Coast Community Bank was formed in 2003 by Buzz Ritchie, a former state legislator and banker. The bank currently operates five branches in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. As of June 30, 2016, Gulf Coast Community Bank had $133.4 million in total assets, $82.8 million in net loans, $115.7 million in deposits, and $5.8 million in stockholders’ equity.

Under the terms of the all-stock merger deal, First Bancshares will issue Gulf Coast Community Bank’s shareholders shares of First Bancshares’ common stock. The merger consideration is valued at $0.50 per share of Gulf Coast Community Bank common stock, for a total of approximately $2.3 million.

Ritchie said Friday that all five Gulf Coast Community Bank branches will remain open and that he and “virtually all” of the bank’s employees would continue on under the new company. The merger isn’t expected to be final until late 2016 or early 2017, after regulatory approval and approval by the shareholders of both companies, Ritchie said.

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