Upfront - Buying Hampton Roads

There's a literal buffet of opportunity when you invest in local companies

In the 1990s I had a checking account at Resource Bank, and when they went public, they offered all their depositors the opportunity to buy stock. I bought some but was still living in Los Angeles for graduate school, so I promptly forgot about it until I moved back to Hampton Roads.

Growing up, my family taught me the value of investment and how to evaluate stocks. Whenever I received each company’s annual meeting voting-by-proxy card, part of me felt sad that I couldn’t actually attend their meetings. I had heard stories, for instance, about Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, and apparently they were quite fun. But, I never lived near any company in which I was invested.

So, I was really excited to be able to go to Resource Bank’s annual meetings once I moved back to town. At my first one, there was a continental breakfast, and it was fun to network with some interesting people.

But, by their last annual meeting—just before a merger with Fulton Bank —they had an elaborate spread at an Oceanfront hotel, complete with gourmet appetizers and a full bar. The thrifty grad student that still lived inside me was hooked.

A few years ago, when Old Point National Bank opened a branch in Ghent, I attended the welcome reception at The Chrysler Museum. The shin-dig was impressive. If this was how they wined and dined a new market, surely their annual meeting would be fun, too, so the next day, I bought stock in the bank.

Last year, as Old Point’s annual meeting grew closer, I got more and more excited. It turned out that a few of my friends were involved with the bank, so I’d have people to talk to when I attended the event at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton.

Old Point’s 2011 annual meeting was a blast—and informative, too. Because this is a truly local bank, there were a lot of displays about the various activities of the bank in the community—and lots of cool giveaways. The actual meeting itself was brief and interesting, but the reception afterwards was like I was in college again and was invited to the faculty club by my favorite professor.

Wines flowed. Roasts were constantly carved. Seafood glistened on ice. Hot and cold hors d oeuvres lined the buffet tables.

Before you accuse me of only investing in a company to eat their food, let me say that this— is only partially true. It’s not just the food and drinks. I do love a good party. But I really enjoy meeting new people and interacting with those I already know in different contexts. Plus, it’s nice to see vital Hampton Roads companies celebrating their successes, especially in this mixed economy.

And, as an investor, I am looking for a return on my investment. I’d like the stock price to go up. I’'d like dividends to be paid regularly. And if there is anything else the company can do for me as an investor, I’d like that too. Providing a fun party and a good meal once a year? That’s worth the price of two or three shares right there. Don’t forget, you don't have to be a mega-investor to attend these meetings. You could buy just one share— any investment you make is likely to pay off in the future. If you don'’t think of yourself as savvy enough to play the market, think of buying local stocks as pre-paying the cover charge to a lifetime of fancydress receptions.

In 2012, I’m looking forward to many more annual meetings, having recently bought a few shares in some other Hampton Roads companies: Heritage Bank, Smithfield Foods, Huntington Ingalls Industries and Norfolk Southern.

This is the secret to having a great meal and delicious drinks, all while meeting some of Hampton Roads’ most interesting people and supporting the local economy.

Invest in Hampton Roads. Not only does it keep your money working locally to create jobs and opportunity for yourself and your neighbors, but it’s fun and delicious as well.

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