The proposed merger of Mission Bank and Mojave Desert Bank N.A. took a big step forward Thursday with a vote of approval by shareholders of the Mojave-based institution.

The vote, together with recent approvals by federal and state regulators, sets the stage for the deal to close in January, according to a Friday news release from Bakersfield-based Mission.

"This is a great way to bring in the New Year," Mission CEO Richard Fanucchi wrote in a news release. "We are pleased to add Mojave Desert Bank's customers to Mission Bank's financial family."

The merger plan, disclosed publicly last summer, would allow Mission to expand into eastern Kern County and the Antelope Valley. For Mojave, which has been slower to rebound from the recession, the deal offers resources needed to meet regulatory needs and pay for better technology and customer service.

Mission earned more than $2 million last year while Mojave Desert lost about half a million dollars.

"Our customers will benefit from gaining access to a wide range of products and services, while continuing to receive the same high quality of service they have come to expect," Mojave Desert President and CEO George Nagy stated in the release.

As of Nov. 30, according to Friday's news release, Mission's assets totaled $290 million, and its loan portfolio came to $129 million. Mojave Desert's assets as of that date totaled $100 million, its loan portfolio $54 million.

Under the merger, the combined bank would have seven branches.

"The transaction will provide Mission Bank growth opportunities, while benefiting customers by improving efficiency, increasing the availability of innovative financial products, and expanding the reach of mission's premium relationship based banking services," Mission President A.J. Antongiovanni stated in the release.

The transaction calls for Mission to pay about $7.19 million for Mojave Desert common stock. Of that, about $3.62 million would be paid in cash, plus 140,000 shares of Mission common stock priced at $25.50 a share.

Mission shares closed at $24.50 Friday, while Mojave Bank's stock closed at $14.55.