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Published: Thursday, 7/25/2002

Banks from smaller towns expand into Bowling Green

First Bank of the Midwest has no teller stations at its new branch in Bowling Green. First Bank of the Midwest has no teller stations at its new branch in Bowling Green.
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Two northwest Ohio banks expanding into the Bowling Green market have used different tactics to get their pieces of the banking pie.

Defiance-based First Federal Bank of the Midwest started a loan-production office that became surprisingly successful, and this week First Federal opened its first Bowling Green full-service branch. The Bank of Leipsic recently hired two top executives from another bank in Pemberville, near Bowling Green, and plans to open its full-service branch soon.

Sky Bank, whose parent company is based in Bowling Green, said it is not afraid of the new competition.

First Federal, a subsidiary of First Defiance Financial Corp. , opened a loan office in late 2000 as a less risky alternative to a full branch, said James Rohrs, president of the bank.

“You have to make sure you have a reception in the marketplace,” he said. “We had such a great response, within two months we filed an application for a full-service branch.”

The full-service bank replaces a loan-production office. The full-service bank replaces a loan-production office.
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Company officers told analysts this week that its fledgling Bowling Green operation produced loans of $50 million and deposits of $20 million in less than two years.

Its new full-service branch has no traditional teller stations but deals with customers in cubicles instead.

“We didn't want to spend money for [temporary teller stations],” said Mr. Rohrs. “Customers liked it. We got good response, so we decided to replicate that.”

The Bank of Leipsic - part of a publicly traded holding company, United Bancshares, Inc., of Columbus Grove - got an offer it couldn't refuse.

Lewis Renollet recently resigned as president of Citizens Savings Bank in Pemberville, and Dean King resigned as executive vice president of the bank, owned by Rurban Financial Corp., another Defiance publicly traded holding company.

“We joined the Bank of Leipsic with the understanding they would locate [a branch] in Bowling Green,” said Mr. Renollet, who became that bank's chief executive officer this month. Mr. King, who is on the executive committee of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, was named executive vice president and senior lender.

“We studied the market, and it was time to move,” said Mr. Renollet. The Leipsic bank needed to expand its market area, and Bowling Green was a logical step, he added.

Michelle McGovern, a vice president for United Bancshares, said the organization has been looking for opportunities and Bowling Green is experiencing residential and commercial growth.

The company is negotiating for a temporary branch site until a permanent branch can be built and is considering a name change for the Bank of Leipsic to a name that would be “more acceptable” to Bowling Green customers, Mr. Renollet said.

First Federal's Mr. Rohrs said his bank has had good luck with loan-production offices. It opened a Toledo-area loan-production office in May in Maumee's Arrowhead Park, where officials said it made $1.9 million in commercial loans in the first two months and had commitments for $6.9 million more. The bank probably will apply for a full-service branch there, Mr. Rohrs said.

Part of the appeal of Bowling Green was the sale of First Federal Bank of Bowling Green, owned by Wood Bancorp, which Sky Financial Group of Bowling Green bought. Sky closed four of the former bank's Bowling Green offices but has five branches there.

Bowling Green has attracted big-bank branches over the years, including offices for KeyBank, Huntington, Fifth Third Bank, and National City Bank.

“I think competition is healthy,” said Sharon Speyer, president of SkyBank-Mid Am Region.

“Bowling Green has always been a strong community for us,” she said. “We have in excess of 150 employees working in Bowling Green.”

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