MARYVILLE, Tenn.-Alcoa Tenn FCU makes no bones about why its Fairview branch is successful-business is booming thanks to the big retail store right across the street.

"Walmart, ultimately, is the reason why we get the traffic, the membership and the account activity that we do," said Branch Manager Griffin Hipple. "It's why we are here. As soon as the credit union learned that the store was going to be built, we started looking for land to construct an office on."

A brand new Fairview office first welcomed members in late 2007, less than a year after Walmart opened its doors here. The retail giant's impact has been exactly what the credit union expected: The area went from farmland to a small business district with restaurants, shops and other financial institutions.

"It really is a growing part of town now. Property prices are skyrocketing," said Hipple.

But that local business boom didn't happen immediately, Hipple pointed out, especially for the credit union. "We opened our Fairview branch in December of 2007, not a good time-right before the economy tanked. Business here had been bumping along nicely."

Hipple recalled how difficult it was to get the new office established, especially with consumers pulling back on borrowing. "There were a lot of jobs lost in this community and a lot of uncertainty, as everyone knows, even among those who had work. Needless to say, we had to do more than just open our doors to bring in loans."

The new branch manager, who had come over from Alcoa Tenn's Foothills office where he was assistant manager, decided to head out into the community himself, shake hands and build relationships with businesses.

"It was not easy, and the times were challenging," he said. "But I was able to build relationships, including with two used car dealerships that were getting business and needed a good source of funding. That has worked out for us and for the car lots as well. It got a lot more loans coming our way."

Thanks, too, to efforts from his staff, who always looked for opportunities to give members loans that could improve their financial positions, the size of the branch's overall loan portfolio has been building since the office was established.

"We have never fallen backward with our loan balances," Hipple explained. "We made it through our rough patch."

Hipple said he has enjoyed building the office's business from the ground up, saying having an "open-door" policy with staff and strong communication has contributed to smooth operations. "I also do not believe in micromanaging. I fully trust my staff and try to give them every tool they need to succeed. I don't look over their shoulders."

Walmart has brought a great deal of business to the area as well as to Hipple's office of Alcoa Tenn-and the branch manager can often be seen returning the favor.

"I shop the store a lot, especially for last-minute needs when I don't have time to go running all over town."

The $190 million Alcoa Tenn is headquartered in Alcoa, Tenn.

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