The Wilson Times

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 11:09 PM

BB&T leader predicts local growth
CEO shares Zebulon plans

By Rochelle Moore | Times Staff Writer

BB&T Chief Executive Office Kelly S. King sees a promising future for the BB&T Corp. in Wilson and the possibility for growth.

The nation’s ninth largest banking institution has had its challenges, like other banks, during the Great Recession but never had any massive layoffs. Wilson’s employee base has also remained solid, amidst increasing regulatory controls and a slowly recovering economy.

The BB&T Corp., which started in Wilson in 1872, has grown to 35,000 employees with its largest employee base of 2,297 in Wilson. BB&T has also maintained its presence as the largest private employer in Wilson County.

"In the context that the world is changing, I think the employment base and opportunities for Wilson look very good,” King said. "I think the prospects for our associate base in Wilson looks very good and very promising. I don’t see any cutbacks. I think there will be growth.”

King was in Wilson Tuesday and spoke during the annual BB&T Center for Free Enterprise Education lecture at Barton College. Following a private, invitation-only luncheon at the Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre, King sat down for an interview with The Wilson Times.

BB&T’s presence has increased nationally where its located in 12 states and Washington, D.C. Its beginnings were much smaller in Wilson when the company started. BB&T was based in Wilson for 123 years until a decision was made to move it headquarters to Winston-Salem. At the time, King said there was concern that BB&T would exit the Wilson market. Instead, the employee base has only increased. And today, BB&T has more employees in Wilson than anywhere else, said David White, BB&T vice president for corporate communications.

"We had about 1,100 people here when we moved to Winston-Salem in 1995,” King said. "Everybody thought the world was coming to an end and we would all leave Wilson. Now we have 2,300 associates.”

The employee base in Wilson has continued to increase because of BB&T’s technology and information center.

"Because this is our technology and information center, as the company grows and every time we grow in Florida or Texas, that causes growth in technology and information, which tends to cause growth in Wilson,” King said.

BB&T is in the process of planning for a new data center in Zebulon, which King said will have no impact on Wilson. The data center, expected to open in 2016, will mainly house computers and only require 15 to 20 employees. The data center is planned as a backup within 30 miles of Wilson in case a natural disaster disrupts BB&T’s operations center in Wilson.

"It’s a data center so it will be a fairly large building with a lot of computers in it but with very, very few people,” King said. "It’s what we call a lights-out data center. It’s not going to have any direct impact on Wilson.”

King said that Wilson is still considered the home of BB&T even though the company’s headquarters is based in Winston-Salem.

"Wilson is still our home,” King said. "We were born here in 1872. That will never change.

We will, intellectually nor emotionally, never forget that. We are very committed to our heritage and we very much appreciate the fact that this was our home for well over 100 years. It, therefore, commands the respect and commitment that your homeplace deserves.”

King also shared his vision for the Lighthouse Project, a project he thought was important for the communities where BB&T is located. King said he came up with the idea during the economic downturn that left many people struggling financially. The project, which started in 2009, provides each employee with a $100 company donation and allows workers the opportunity to select a community project that requires volunteer time and the corporate donation.

The program, which started as a way to help people in need, had another impact King didn’t expect.

"My first thought, in all honesty, was to do good in the community,” King said. "I didn’t anticipate the second huge benefit, which was the benefit for our associates. I’ve had hundreds, maybe a thousand or more, associates tell me with tears in their eyes, ‘This has been a life-changing experience for me.’

"In the five years that we’ve done it, we’ve done over 5,500 projects and we’ve touched over 8 million people in our marketplace that are otherwise socially or economically deprived.”

In Wilson last year, BB&T employees donated more than 5,575 hours and touched the lives of 58,500 people through 83 lighthouse projects.

"We called it the Lighthouse Project because it was just an icon showing the way for people and giving them hope and promise for a better future,” King said. | 265-7818

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