The first president of newly formed NBT Bank Maine in Portland sees big economic growth on the horizon in southern coastal Maine.

John Watt, who moved to the area from Syracuse to establish the upstate New York-based community bank’s presence in Maine, said NBT Bank did a lot of research before deciding to expand into southern Maine. Positive signs identified by the bank included recent hotel projects and planned mixed-use development in Portland, he said.

“This is more than cyclical growth,” Watt said. “The picture is expanding.”

NBT has leased a 5,000-square-foot office at Merrill’s Wharf on Commercial Street, where it plans to focus initially on commercial and real estate lending. Watt said consumer banking for wealthy individuals, indirect auto financing through dealerships, and insurance services likely will follow.

NBT does not plan to open a retail branch here.

“You don’t need another bank branch in southern Maine,” he said.

Watt sees opportunity in providing loans for commercial development projects and business expansions in the state, he said. NBT, which has about $8 billion in assets, plans to focus on loans above $2 million, the upper limit for U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loans. NBT’s assets make it more than twice the size of the largest Maine-based banks, Bangor Savings Bank and Camden National Bank.

NBT already has hired several experienced commercial bankers in the area and plans to grow to a staff of 12 to 15 in the near term, Watt said.

It plans to help accelerate the economic growth that enticed it to come to Maine in the first place, he said.

“We’ll be lending capital into the market to help businesses grow,” Watt said.

SBA TO HONOR BIGGEST LENDERS

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Maine District Office is hosting its annual awards ceremony Tuesday to recognize the state’s top SBA lenders during the 2014 federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

This year’s winners are Bangor Savings Bank, named the Top Overall SBA Lender; Androscoggin Savings Bank, named Top Performing Third Party Lender; and CEI, named Top Performing Microlender. The Top Performing Credit Union award will go to NorState Federal Credit Union.

The ceremony starts at noon and will take place at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester.

SMALL BANKS GET LIBOR FEE RELIEF

Small community banks that use the popular Libor loan index to set financing rates for their customers will not be saddled with large annual fees for using the index as previously had been announced, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Community Bankers of America.

Libor, which is short for the London Interbank Offered Rate index, is used by many banks as a basis for setting interest rates on mortgages, student loans and other financial instruments.

Earlier this year, the Intercontinental Exchange, which administers the Libor index, issued a new fee schedule that would have required all banks using the index to pay a $16,000 annual fee.

But community banking industry representatives argued that the across-the-board fee would be cost-prohibitive for small independent banks. The exchange responded this month by waiving the annual fee for banks with assets under $1.5 billion. Banks with assets between $1.5 billion and $10 billion will pay a dramatically reduced fee of $2,000.