Allen Brown, president of $120 million-asset Mil-Way Federal Credit Union, hopes to add a new position to his resume later this year, running for the unpaid position of mayor of Texarkana, Ark.
Brown is challenging Mayor Ruth Penney Bell, the incumbent mayor of a city split between Texas and Arkansas. Brown believes some credit union know-how can help the city thrive, and while he said there isn’t much intersection between credit union issues and municipal issues, Brown is focused on growth.
“Our Texas side has grown well economically and retail-wise,” Brown told Credit Union Journal. “We think that we have some of that potential on the Texarkana, Arkansas side.”
The two halves of the city share a highway, airport and a water company, though the city has two mayors, two fire departments and two police departments. But there’s an obvious disparity between the Texas and the Arkansas side of Texarkana, Brown said: the mall, Costco and a plethora of restaurants are all on the Texas side.
From the credit union standpoint, Brown has plenty of experience overseeing growth. He started out at Mil-Way in 1985 as a loan officer and worked his way up to vice president and senior vice president before being appointed president and CEO in 1995. From the time that Allen took over, the financial institution has grown from $20 million in assets to $120 million, and today it serves approximately 12,000 members.
“I have seen the credit union grow from a small four-room building [of] maybe 800 square feet into the three major locations totaling more than 12,000 square feet [with a presence in] two states,” Anne Gierke, vice president and branch manager of Mil-Way FCU’s Ashdown location, said in an email.
After more than 30 years in the credit union movement, Brown wants to work to make the Arkansas side of Texarkana more competitive and prosperous. As such, Brown will be looking to increase jobs on the Arkansas side and make it a more ripe environment for entrepreneurs.
Brown doesn’t have a specific agenda in mind yet for his campaign, but has reached out to business leaders in his community to better understand how he can grow the Arkansas side of Texarkana.
“I feel Texarkana right now is in a lull,” he said. “We’ve been losing our sales tax revenue and we don’t have a lot of industries coming to town.”
Financial services and politics run in Brown’s family. His mother worked at Hope, Ark.-based Citizens National Bank, his grandfather was county politician who served for eight consecutive terms and his father was elected to the school board three times.
“What I’ve learned from my grandfather is that you’re obligated — if you think you can make a difference — to get involved in the community,” Brown said.
Vicky Salkeld, president of the Arkansas Credit Union League (which itself is a division of the Cornerstone CU League), has worked with Brown for about 30 years. In that time, Brown has served as a league director, treasurer for the executive committee, secretary and vice chairman. He also served several terms as chairman of the league’s legislative action committee and made several trips to Washington, DC. He currently serves on the Arkansas Governmental Affairs Committee of the Cornerstone Credit Union League.
In an email, Salkeld called Brown a respected leader in the state’s credit union community, noting that he has mentored several credit unions and leads a panel discussion every year at the league’s Managers’ Roundtable.
“He does a great job in placing employees in a job which draws upon their talents which in turn helps the member,” said Cari Brown, senior vice president of administration at Mil-Way FCU, in an email. “He can do the same for the city. He will seek out the best in each person, project or potential endeavor and create a workable strategy benefiting the city and citizens.”
More CU civic leaders wanted
The candidate and his wife, Shelby, have lived in Texarkana for more than 30 years and both have been on the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Brown has also served as a member of the Texarkana, Ark., Planning Commission and Board of Adjustments. He also is a member of the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council.
Brown is the current mayor’s only declared opponent at this point, though anyone considering a run for mayor has until Aug. 17 to register. Brown will continue to be CEO and president of Mil-Way FCU even if he is elected mayor because the office is a volunteer position.
Brown wants to take the lessons he’s learned from advocacy work with his credit union and in the community and apply that to public office.
"We always end up being active in trying to get credit union-friendly legislators in our state senate and house, but you find very few people that have an actual credit union connection," he said, adding that he hopes to see more credit union professionals running for office.