Locals 2020: Dave Fleming sees great value in investing in community
If you knew nothing about Dave Fleming before walking into his workspace, his office décor could tell you a great deal before he even speaks to you.
The president of the Craig branch of Yampa Valley Bank has his walls festooned with a plethora of Western imagery, which is even easier to see thanks to the antler design lighting fixture hanging from the ceiling.
But, in between cowboy signage and photos sit a selection of plaques, certificates, and trophies from multiple local organizations, most of which thank the bank and Fleming for their support in one way or another.
And, he’s more than happy to be part of the process.
Fleming may not have been born in Moffat County, but he began life nearby in southwestern Wyoming, born in Rock Springs and raised in Green River.
“My mother’s family had a ranch that used to be out in Browns Park, and my grandfather had a few ranches here and there, but I spent all my summers working on a ranch probably from the time I was 10 years,” he said.
Fleming said he specifically focused on a career on agriculture lending thanks to his formative years.
“My dad was an accountant, so the combination of being exposed to that and the ranching made sense. I thought I’d be comfortable in that and working with ag people,” he said.
He received a bachelor’s degree in ag business from University of Wyoming and shortly after gained his first job with Rifle Production Credit Association, which had an office in Craig.
“That got me my start in ag lending,” he said. “I worked there until about 1985, and then the old Moffat County State Bank offered me a job. I was only there for about four months, and that was my first time in quote-unquote ‘banking,’ if you will. It was more than just lending.”
Changes in the industry helped contribute to multiple changes in Fleming’s career trajectory over the next several years.
“The ‘80s were pretty tough times,” he said. “It didn’t matter if you were in agriculture or regular business or whatever, especially in Craig with the shutdown when they finished the construction of, I think the third phase, of the power plant, a lot of people left town. Interest rates went up quite a bit, and people were having pretty high rates for their loans.”
Fleming said he might have had to relocate, which he didn’t want to do, so he briefly moved into a new field while also working on an MBA through University of Phoenix.
“I did real estate for a couple years, but that was during a time when you couldn’t sell the nicest home in town for $100,000,” he said. “Living on commissions during that time was tough.”
It was in 1992 that he was hired as a vice president lender at First Federal Savings and Loan — which later went under the title First National Bank of the Rockies and has since become Bank of the San Juans — and was in the position of bank president by 1994.
“That was really the start of my banking career, more than just lending,” he said.
Fleming continued in this role until 2000, but he was weighing the options of a whole new career path in outfitting.
“Right when I was starting up my business was when 9/11 happened,” he said. “Being a start-up business after that was a little bit rough in creating a name for yourself and finding clients long-term.”
Heading back to the banking business, he found a new opportunity when he was approached in 2004 about the prospect of beginning a truly local bank. Yampa Valley Bank had its origins down the road in Steamboat Springs in 2000.
“They thought it’d be good for Craig to have its own bank and that strategically that would be a good fit to have another location in the valley,” Fleming said. “One of the reasons I had contemplated leaving banking before was I had no stake or ownership in the business that I was running. I was kind of looking for something more along those lines. That gave me the opportunity to buy in upfront to the business I was going to start and a chance to have some ownership. Pretty small stake, but it was something that meant a lot to me.”
He added that starting “de novo” — Latin for “from the beginning” or “anew” or as Fleming described it, “from scratch” — also meant the big calls would remain in the area rather than a larger entity elsewhere in the country.
“I was looking for a direction where strategic planning and decision-making for the community would remain in the community,” he said, adding an important part of the early stages was finding significant local shareholders.
The Craig branch officially opened in July 2005, though Fleming counts Nov. 29, 2004 as the date when he signed on for the new venture.
“I just celebrated my 16th anniversary of that,” he said.
Moving from a modular unit to its current building on Mack Lane by 2008, Fleming had several concerns with the design and layout, one of which was outside the structure.
“One of my expectations was to have plenty of parking,” he said. “In our market, there’s plenty of people who have semis or horse trailers or campers or whatever. We wanted to have lots of good access from multiple areas of town.”
Besides its logo of riders on horseback against the sunset, the Yampa Valley Bank building is also designed to be eye-catching with a somewhat rustic exterior.
Apart from working with plenty of people in the agriculture industry, Fleming still keeps ties with the Western lifestyle as a longtime horse owner as well as recently getting back into cattle ownership.
“Being in commercial lending in general, you can kind of understand different kinds of businesses a little bit, but if you don’t have a background in it, it’s hard to understand what ranching’s about. It’s hard to be a good ag lender,” he said. “There’s a lot of little things that go with that; how ranches work, what livestock are good or not, those types of things. Bank loans are kind of my favorite thing to do just to go back to my roots.”
That was also reflected in his work with area rodeo, namely with National Little Britches Rodeo Association in the early to mid-2000s.
“For about three or four years we had about the biggest Little Britches rodeo in the United States apart from the national finals,” he said.
Fleming also worked as the coach of the Moffat County High School team and instilled the love for the sport in his son Eric and late daughter Sarah.
“The great thing about rodeo is you have a big extended family,” he said.
In addition to getting involved with Colorado Northwestern Community College boards and Memorial Regional Health Foundation in the past, as well as Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership and the Local Marketing District, Fleming has also been heavily involved in the local Kiwanis chapter, an organization whose fundraising cause he believes in greatly.
“We have to invest in our youth so there’s somebody who can come back and hopefully be good business members and community members going forward,” he said. “It’s always nice to be part of a group that does a lot of good.”
As someone who’s been in Craig since 1981, Fleming said many of his life choices were made so that he could stay in the place he loves.
“Craig is one of those communities where people work hard and are very generous,” he said. “When the community really needs something or something happens, they’re very good at helping out when the chips are down.”
He added that 2020’s experiences amid COVID-19 is one that has been full of uncertainty, and the banking world has been no exception.
“We’ve been through some trying times, and nobody’s really experienced anything quite like this,” he said. “But if you look, people in this community have really stepped up in lots of different ways to fill in the gaps and help people out and try to ensure that some of the businesses who have really been affected the most can still make it work.”
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