Jan Malinowski: Local banker stays invested in evolution of northern Beaufort County

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By Anne Christnovich

Banking, by most stereotypes, is not the most exciting work in the world.

Jan Malinowski, Executive Vice President of Palmetto State Bank, readily laughs at his work’s dry reputation, but also isn’t afraid to opine its importance.

“A bank is part of the backbone of any community,” he said.

Palmetto State Bank, a family-owned business, established in 1907, primarily deals with small business owners and individual accounts. Malinowski started working there in 1991, when he moved from Miami to Beaufort County with his wife, Liz.

Executive Vice President of Palmetto State Bank Jan Malinowski.
Executive Vice President of Palmetto State Bank Jan Malinowski.

Before Miami, Malinowski worked at banks all over Canada, the United States and Europe, including a two-year stint in Zurich, Switzerland.

When it came time to decide whether the Malinowskis wanted to raise their children in a big city or a small town, settling down in Beaufort was a no-brainer, Malinowski said.

“We realized Miami is a great place for a single person or a married couple without kids or a retired person,” he said. “Liz’s family is from South Carolina … Coming to a small town from big cities was a change, but a pleasant one.”

Their three children — two sons and a daughter — are now ages 23, 21 and 18.

Malinowski said working for international banks had its perks but the smaller operation allows for more freedom and less corporate red tape.

“Some days I might be putting together a complex loan, others I’m running down someone to fix a leaky roof at one of the branches,” he said. “You have to wear a lot of hats and that’s what makes this fun.”

Malinowski wears a lot of hats in other areas, too.

He belongs of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Sea Island Rotary Club and a statewide group called the Certified Development Corporation.

It’s not hard to see that all those hats have a connection to development — in both a physical and social sense — for the northern parts of Beaufort County. It’s a topic Malinowski has invested a lot of time and thought.

He said he hopes to be appointed to a soon-to-be-formed chamber of commerce subcommittee dedicated to aiding Mayor Bill Keyserling and the Lowcountry Economic Alliance in attracting new businesses to the area.

The alliance — a group established between counties — has state tax money marked specifically for attracting new companies. Malinowski said the alliance would bring prospective clients to the area, and the chamber subcommittee would help show them what Beaufort has to offer.

“The idea is that if someone does come into town, we can readily answer their questions,” he said, adding the chance to impress clients could also bring business to local caterers and entertainment businesses.

The area’s delicate ecological balance can make the argument for more development a contentious one, but Malinowski said taking care of the area’s low-income population and expanding the tax base shouldn’t be neglected.

“What’s too much (development)?” he said. “The people who say (development) is too much, I say what’s the limit to too much poverty?”

“We’re not going to get smoke stacks here, but we could certainly use more job creators,” he said. “What are the contingency plans for if the Air Base closes? … We have to start taking a look for opportunities while we have the luxury of time and the resources to do so.”

The confidence for Beaufort’s future evolution comes from his experience in the area so far: Malinowski said the last 20 years of growth Beaufort County has been nothing less than “remarkable.”

“When my wife and I got her in ’91, for example, Beaufort Memorial Hospital was an older 1950s-style operation,” he said. “We’ve seen it grow from a handful of doctors to a medical staff of close to 200 … We have well-respected specialists in many areas.”

As a member of the bank, he’s also seen the first-hand effects of the economic downturn, but said he sees recovery happening.

Malinowski’s youngest daughter is preparing to graduate high school this May, which will leave the house to Jan and Liz. Although the number of mouths to feed with be different, Malinowski said he’ll likely continue to do what he’s doing for the foreseeable future. The formation of the chamber subcommittee will likely take place in 30 to 60 days, Malinowski said, and there’s still plenty of people who need loans or financial help from his bank.

“The bank has been successful over the years because we try to be consistent and stable,” he said. “We can’t be all things to all people … But a good institution is made up of its people, and ours care immensely about their customers.”