Bank carves out spot in Northern Va.

Essex is expanding into a full branch in Fairfax. Photo courtesy of Essex Bank.

Essex is expanding into a full branch in Fairfax. Photo courtesy of Essex Bank.

A Richmond bank is ready to bite off a piece of NoVa.

Essex Bank is working to open a new location in Fairfax, its first full branch in the cutthroat Northern Virginia market.

The $1.2 billion bank has a lease on a 2,400-square-foot building at 10509 Judicial Drive, which sits across from the Fairfax County courthouse.

CEO Rex Smith said Essex has had a presence on the building’s upper floor with a loan production office for about a year as it waited to open the full-service branch.

With that location set to open in later this quarter, Smith said the bank is already eyeing more territory.

“We hope it’s the first of several (new branches in Northern Virginia),” Smith said.

Smith said the bank has budgeted for three or four new branches in 2016. It’s targeting Northern Virginia, Lynchburg and further expansion in Richmond.

Rex Smith

Rex Smith

In Northern Virginia, Smith said the bank will look to expand on the west side of the Beltway, in places like Manassas, Fairfax, Burke and Centreville. The locations will complement Essex’s established presence in Maryland, where it has seven branches.

The bank has 15 branches in the Richmond market, and Smith sees room for more.

“We need to fill in some gaps,” he said. “We need to come down and get into the western Short Pump area, either over by the Wegmans (which is under construction at West Broad Marketplace) or one of those places right there.”

South of the James, Smith wants to see Essex add to its two current branches in the Winterfield area and Bon Air.

“I think we need to be over in the Charter Colony area and maybe on (Route) 360,” he said.

Smith said getting a foot in the door in Northern Virginia is no easy task. The busy market is home to more than 80 banks all fighting for position. That includes the big boys like Capital One, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the like, mid-sized regional banks like M&T, as well as some of the state’s larger community banks, such as Eagle Bank, United Bank and Cardinal Bank.

“It’s a different style of market,” Smith said. “But it’s one of the highest-growth markets east of the Mississippi.”

Few local banks have any major presence in Northern Virginia. Of the community banks headquartered here, only Xenith and Union have a stake in the market.

Essex will outfit the new Fairfax branch, formerly a PNC location, with its new interior layout that eliminates traditional teller lines, similar to its recently opened outpost in Bon Air.

Out of the gate, Essex will target Northern Virginia’s small businesses and will look to win commercial real estate and commercial and industrial loans.

“We’re going to spend a lot of time and focus up there because it’s a diverse market,” he said. “You need to make your stand in there and you need to make people know you’re there to stay.”

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