Jul. 18--PRATTVILLE -- The owners of a downtown Prattville restaurant were thrilled to hear that a new company coming to town will mean about 60 new jobs at a nearby bank.
     Whitney National Bank, headquartered in New Orleans, will open an auxiliary operations center at its downtown branch. The information technology jobs will pay an average of $16 an hour, and the entire project will have a $2 million payroll, said Gene Crane, Central Alabama region president for Whitney.
     Mark and Michelle Taylor opened MarChelle's Bistro, a restaurant just down Main Street, last March. Michelle Taylor expects the new business will add to the lunch rush.
     "I think it's great, we need more jobs like this in Prattville," she said. "You can't overlook 60 jobs coming downtown. Most people eat where it's convenient. It's going to be great for us, but it's also going to be great for every business downtown."
     Whitney is looking for "geodiversity" for its operation, Crane said -- and Prattville's location 180 miles from the Gulf Coast was a big factor in the company's decision. The company's nerve center was based in New Orleans, and when Hurricane Katrina hit, the whole operation suffered.
     "We had our headquarters, operations center and 37 branches protected by the levee system in New Orleans during the 2005 hurricane season," he said. "The majority of our buildings weren't damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but they couldn't operate."
     Prattville could serve as a backup facility in case of a future emergency.
     "Once the project is complete, Prattville can run the entire back office operations of the company," he said.
     Prattville is near the center of Whitney's service area that serves the five-state Gulf Coast region, from Houston, Texas to Tampa, Fla. Tasks like check processing, rendering statements, document storage, wire transfers and cash balance requirements for branches will be handled in the Prattville location. The operations center will remain in New Orleans, but in the event of hurricane threats, the entire operation could head up the road to Prattville. That would increase the number of employees, for a time, to about 150.
     The branch building will undergo renovation and improvements that will total about $7.5 million. Branch service will remain on the first floor.
     "This is a tremendous investment in Prattville and Autauga County," said Mayor Jim Byard. "These are good paying jobs in the technology field. The economic impact is going to be huge."
     Current employees will be offered the option of a transfer to Prattville, so it's unknown how many slots will be filled with local people, said Crane. The bank is going to be swamped with applications, said Susan Minor, of Prattville.
     "Anybody who lives in Prattville and works in an office in Montgomery would love to have one of these jobs," she said. "I would take a little pay cut to keep from having to drive to across the river five days a week with gas at $4 a gallon. Plus, you're closer to home. It sounds great to me."
     Whitney came to Prattville in 2001 when it bought out the Bank of Prattville. The bank operates seven branches in central Alabama.

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